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Title: Special Messenger
Author: Chambers, Robert W. (Robert William), 1865-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Special Messenger" ***

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SPECIAL MESSENGER

      *      *      *      *      *      *

WORKS OF ROBERT W. CHAMBERS

      Special Messenger              Iole
      The Firing Line                The Reckoning
      The Younger Set                The Maid-at-Arms
      The Fighting Chance            Cardigan
      Some Ladies in Haste           The Haunts of Men
      The Tree of Heaven             The Mystery of Choice
      The Tracer of Lost Persons     The Cambric Mask
      A Young Man in a Hurry         A Maker of Moons
      Lorraine                       The King in Yellow
      Maids of Paradise              In Search of the Unknown
      Ashes of Empire                The Conspirators
      The Red Republic               A King and a Few Dukes
      Outsiders                      In the Quarter

                        FOR CHILDREN

      Garden-Land                    Mountain-Land
      River-Land                     Outdoorland

      *      *      *      *      *      *


SPECIAL MESSENGER

by

ROBERT W. CHAMBERS



[Illustration: "Daintily her handsome horse set foot in the water."
                                                            Page 131.]



D. Appleton and Company
New York--MCMIX

Copyright, 1909, by
Robert W. Chambers
Copyright, 1904, 1905, by Harper and Brothers
Copyright, 1908, by P F Collier & Son
Copyright, 1908, by The Curtis Publishing Company

Published, March, 1909



                                   TO
                           GEORGE F. D. TRASK

                              IN MEMORY OF
                       OUR FIRST MARTIAL EXPLOITS
                             IN THE NURSERY



        Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that
        it may be displayed because of the truth.--PSALM lx, 4.



PREFACE

        In the personality and exploits of the "Special Messenger,"
        the author has been assured that a celebrated historical
        character is recognizable--Miss Boyd, the famous Confederate
        scout and spy.

        It is not uncommon that the readers of a book know more
        about that book than the author.
                                                           R. W. C.



CONTENTS

   PART ONE

   WHAT SHE WAS
                                                        Page

              I. Noncombatants                             3

   PART TWO

   WHAT SHE BECAME

             II. Special Messenger                        39

            III. Absolution                               67

             IV. Romance                                  99

              V. Red Ferry                               127

             VI. An Air Line                             157

            VII. The Pass                                192

           VIII. Ever After                              223



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
                                                             FACING PAGE

"Daintily her handsome horse set foot in the water"         Frontispiece

"'They seem to be allfired sure of us'"                               78

"Then, like a flash his hand fell to his holster, and it was empty"   90

"'Turn around,' said the Special Messenger"                          176

"She dropped her sunbonnet--stooped to recover it"                   216

"White-faced, desperate, she clung to him with the tenacity
   of a lynx"                                                        220

"'We was there--I know that; yes, an' we had a fight'"               238

"'Yes,' she gasped, 'the Special Messenger--noncombatant!'"          258



PART ONE

WHAT SHE WAS

I

NONCOMBATANTS


About five o'clock that evening a Rhode Island battery clanked through
the village and parked six dusty guns in a pasture occupied by some
astonished cows.

A little later the cavalry arrived, riding slowly up the tree-shaded
street, escorted by every darky and every dog in the country-side.

The clothing of this regiment was a little out of the ordinary. Instead
of the usual campaign head gear the troopers wore forage caps strapped
under their chins, heavy visors turned down, and their officers were
conspicuous in fur-trimmed hussar tunics slung from the shoulders of
dark-blue shell jackets; but most unusual and most interesting of all, a
mounted cavalry band rode ahead, led by a bandmaster who sat his horse
like a colonel of regulars--a slim young man with considerable yellow
and gold on his faded blue sleeves, and an easy manner of swinging
forward his heavy cut-and-thrust sabre as he guided the column through
the metropolitan labyrinths of Sandy River.

Sandy River had seen and scowled at Yankee cavalry before, but never
before had the inhabitants had an opportunity to ignore a mounted band
and bandmaster. There was, of course, no cheering; a handkerchief
fluttered from a gallery here and there, but Sandy River was loyal only
in spots, and the cavalry pressed past groups of silent people,
encountering the averted heads or scornful eyes of young girls and the
cold hatred in the faces of gray-haired gentlewomen, who turned their
backs as the ragged guidons bobbed past and the village street rang with
the clink-clank of scabbards and rattle of Spencer carbines.

But there was a small boy on a pony who sat entranced as the
weather-ravaged squadrons trampled by. Cap in hand, straight in his
saddle, he saluted the passing flag; a sunburnt trooper called out:
"That's right, son! Bully for you!"

The boy turned his pony and raced along the column under a running fire
of approving chaff from the men, until he came abreast of the bandmaster
once more, at whom he stared with fascinated and uncloyed satisfaction.

Into a broad common wheeled the cavalry; the boy followed on his pony,
guiding the little beast in among the mounted men, edging as close as
possible to the bandmaster, who had drawn bridle and wheeled his showy
horse abreast of a group of officers. When the boy had crowded up as
close as possible to the bandmaster he sat in silence, blissfully
drinking in the splendors of that warrior's dusty apparel.

"I'm right glad you-all have come," ventured the boy.

The bandmaster swung round in his saddle and saw a small sun-tanned face
and two wide eyes intently fixed on his.

"I reckon you don't know how glad my sister and I are to see you down
here," said the boy politely. "When are you going to have a battle?"

"A battle!" repeated the bandmaster.

"Yes, sir. You're going to fight, of course, aren't you?"

"Not if people leave us alone--and leave that railroad alone," replied
the officer, backing his restive horse to the side of the fence as the
troopers trotted past into the meadow, fours crowding closely on fours.

"Not fight?" exclaimed the boy, astonished. "Isn't there going to be a
battle?"

"I'll let you know when there's going to be one," said the bandmaster
absently.

"You won't forget, will you?" inquired the boy. "My name is William
Stuart Westcote, and I live in that house." He pointed with his riding
whip up the hill. "You won't forget, will you?"

"No, child, I won't forget."

"My sister Celia calls me Billy; perhaps you had better just ask her for
Billy if I'm not there when you gallop up to tell me--that is, if you're
coming yourself. Are you?" he ended wistfully.

"Do you want me to come?" inquired the bandmaster, amused.

"Would you really come?" cried the boy. "Would you really come to visit
me?"

"I'll consider it," said the bandmaster gravely.

"Do you think you could come to-night?" asked the boy. "We'd certainly
be glad to see you--my sister and I. Folks around here like the Malletts
and the Colvins and the Garnetts don't visit us any more, and it's
lonesome sometimes."

"I think that you should ask your sister first," suggested the
bandmaster.

"Why? She's loyal!" exclaimed the boy earnestly. "Besides, you're coming
to visit _me_, I reckon. Aren't you?"

"Certainly," said the bandmaster hastily.

"To-night?"

"I'll do my best, Billy."

The boy held out a shy hand; the officer bent from his saddle and took
it in his soiled buckskin gauntlet.

"Good night, my son," he said, without a smile, and rode off into the
meadow among a crowd of troopers escorting the regimental wagons.

A few moments later a child on a pony tore into the weed-grown drive
leading to the great mansion on the hill, scaring a lone darky who had
been dawdling among the roses.

"'Clar' tu goodness, Mars Will'm, I done tuk you foh de Black Hoss
Cav'ly!" said the ancient negro reproachfully. "Hi! Hi! Wha' foh you mek
all dat fuss an' a-gwine-on?"

"Oh, Mose!" cried the boy, "I've seen the Yankee cavalry, and they have
a horse band, and I rode with them, and I asked a general when they were
going to have a battle, and the general said he'd let me know!"

"Gin'ral?" demanded the old darky suspiciously; "who dat gin'ral dat
gwine tell you 'bout de battle? Was he drivin' de six-mule team, or was
he dess a-totin' a sack o' co'n? Kin you splain dat, Mars Will'm?"

"Don't you think I know a general when I see one?" exclaimed the boy
scornfully. "He had yellow and gilt on his sleeves, and he carried a
sabre, and he rode first of all. And--oh, Mose! He's coming here to pay
me a visit! Perhaps he'll come to-night; he said he would if he could."

"Dat gin'ral 'low he gwine come here?" muttered the darky. "Spec' you
better see Miss Celia 'fo' you ax dis here gin'ral."

"I'm going to ask her now," said the boy. "She certainly will be glad to
see one of our own men. Who cares if all the niggers have run off? We're
not ashamed--and, anyhow, you're here to bring in the decanters for the
general."

"Shoo, honey, you might talk dat-a-way ef yo' pa wuz in de house,"
grumbled the old man. "Ef hit's done fix, nobody kin onfix it. But dess
yo' leave dem gin'rals whar dey is nex' time, Mars Will'm. Hit wuz a
gin'ral dat done tuk de Dominiker hen las' time de blueco'ts come to
San' River."

The boy, sitting entranced in reverie, scarcely heard him; and it was
only when a far trumpet blew from the camp in the valley that he started
in his saddle and raised his rapt eyes to the windows. Somebody had hung
out a Union flag over the jasmine-covered portico.

"There it is! There it is, Mose!" he cried excitedly, scrambling from
his saddle. "Here--take the bridle! And the very minute you hear the
general dashing into the drive, let me know!"

He ran jingling up the resounding veranda--he wore his father's
spurs--and mounted the stairs, two at a jump, calling: "Celia! Celia!
You'll be glad to know that a general who is a friend of mine----"

"Hush, Billy," said his sister, checking him on the landing and leading
him out to the gallery from which the flag hung; "can't you remember
that grandfather is asleep by sundown? Now--what is it, dear, you wish
to tell me?"

"Oh, I forgot; truly I did, Celia--but a general is coming to visit me
to-night, if you can possibly manage it, and I'm so glad you hung out
the flag--and Moses can serve the Madeira, can't he?"

"What general?" inquired his sister uneasily. And her brother's
explanations made matters no clearer. "You remember what the Yankee
cavalry did before," she said anxiously. "You must be careful, Billy,
now that the quarters are empty and there's not a soul in the place
except Mose."

"But, Celia! the general is a gentleman. I shook hands with him!"

"Very well, dear," she said, passing one arm around his neck and leaning
forward over the flag. The sun was dipping between a cleft in the
hills, flinging out long rosy beams across the misty valley. The mocking
birds had ceased, but a thrasher was singing in a tangle of Cherokee
roses under the western windows.

While they stood there the sun dipped so low that nothing remained
except a glowing scarlet rim.

"Hark!" whispered the boy. Far away an evening gunshot set soft echoes
tumbling from hill to hill, distant, more distant. Strains of the
cavalry band rose in the evening silence, "The Star Spangled Banner"
floating from the darkening valley. Then silence; and presently a low,
sweet thrush note from the dusky garden.

It was after supper, when the old darky had lighted the dips--there
being no longer any oil or candles to be had--that the thrush, who had
been going into interminable ecstasies of fluty trills, suddenly became
mute. A jingle of metal sounded from the garden, a step on the porch, a
voice inquiring for Mr. Westcote; and old Mose replying with reproachful
dignity: "Mars Wes'cote, suh? Mars Wes'cote daid, suh."

"That's my friend, the general!" exclaimed Billy, leaping from his
chair. "Mose, you fool nigger, why don't you ask the general to come
in?" he whispered fiercely; then, as befitted the master of the house,
he walked straight out into the hall, small hand outstretched, welcoming
his guest as he had seen his father receive a stranger of distinction.
"I am so glad you came," he said, crimson with pleasure. "Moses will
take your cap and cloak-- Mose!"

The old servant shuffled forward, much impressed by the uniform revealed
as the long blue mantle fell across his own ragged sleeve.

"Do you know why I came, Billy?" asked the bandmaster, smiling.

"I reckon it was because you promised to, wasn't it?" inquired the
child.

"Certainly," said the bandmaster hastily. "And I promised to come
because I have a brother about your age--'way up in New York. Shall we
sit here on the veranda and talk about him?"

"First," said the boy gravely, "my sister Celia will receive you."

He turned, leading the way to the parlor with inherited
self-possession; and there, through the wavering light of a tallow dip,
the bandmaster saw a young girl in black rising from a chair by the
center table; and he brought his spurred heels together and bowed his
very best bow.

"My brother," she said, "has been so anxious to bring one of our
officers here. Two weeks ago the Yan--the Federal cavalry passed
through, chasing Carrington's Horse out of Oxley Court House, but there
was no halt here." She resumed her seat with a gesture toward a chair
opposite; the bandmaster bowed again and seated himself, placing his
sabre between his knees.

"Our cavalry advance did not behave very well in Oxley," he said.

"They took a few chickens _en passant_," she said, smiling; "but had
they asked for them we would have been glad to give. We are loyal, you
know."

"Those gay jayhawkers were well disciplined for that business when
Stannard took them over," said the bandmaster grimly. "Had they behaved
themselves, we should have had ten friends here where we have one now."

The boy listened earnestly. "Would you please tell me," he asked,
"whether you have decided to have a battle pretty soon?"

"I don't decide such matters," said the bandmaster, laughing.

"Why, I thought a general could always have a battle when he wanted to!"
insisted the boy, surprised.

"But I'm not a general, Billy," replied the young fellow, coloring. "Did
you think I was?"

"My brother's ideas are very vague," said his sister quickly; "any
officer who fights is a general to him."

"I'm sorry," said the bandmaster, looking at the child, "but do you
know, I am not even a fighting officer? I am only the regimental
bandmaster, Billy--a noncombatant."

For an instant the boy's astonished disappointment crushed out his
inbred courtesy as host. His sister, mortified but self-possessed, broke
the strained silence with a quiet question or two concerning the newly
arrived troops; and the bandmaster replied, looking at the boy.

Billy, silent, immersed in reflection, sat with curly head bent and
hands folded on his knees. His sister glanced at him, looked furtively
at the bandmaster, and their eyes met. He smiled, and she returned the
smile; and he looked at Billy and smiled again.

"Billy," he said, "I've been sailing under false colors, it seems--but
you hoisted them. I think I ought to go."

The boy looked up at him, startled.

"Good night," said the bandmaster gravely, rising to his lean height
from the chair beside the table. The boy flushed to his hair.

"Don't go," he said; "I like you even if you don't fight!"

Then the bandmaster began to laugh, and the boy's sister bit her lip and
looked at her brother.

"Billy! Billy!" she said, catching his hands in hers, "do you think the
only brave men are those who gallop into battle?"

Hands imprisoned in his sister's, he looked up at the bandmaster.

"If you were ordered to fight, you'd fight, wouldn't you?" he asked.

"Under those improbable circumstances I think I might," admitted the
young fellow, solemnly reseating himself.

"Celia! Do you hear what he says?" cried the boy.

"I hear," said his sister gently. "Now sit very still while Moses serves
the Madeira; only half a glass for Mr. William, Moses--no, not one drop
more!"

Moses served the wine with pomp and circumstance; the lean young
bandmaster looked straight at the boy's sister and rose, bowing with a
grace that instantly entranced the aged servant.

"Celia," said the boy, "we must drink to the flag, you know;" and the
young girl rose from her chair, and, looking at the bandmaster, touched
her lips to the glass.

"I wish they could see us," said the boy, "--the Colvins and the
Malletts. I've heard their 'Bonnie Blue Flag' and their stirrup toasts
until I'm sick----"

"Billy!" said his sister quietly. And reseating herself and turning to
the bandmaster, "Our neighbors differ with us," she said, "and my
brother cannot understand it. I have to remind him that if they were not
brave men our army would have been victorious, and there would have been
no more war after Bull Run."

The bandmaster assented thoughtfully. Once or twice his worn eyes swept
the room--a room that made him homesick for his own. It had been a long
time since he had sat in a chair in a room like this--a long time since
he had talked with women and children. Perhaps the boy's sister divined
something of his thoughts--he was not much older than she--for, as he
rose, hooking up his sabre, and stepped forward to take his leave, she
stood up, too, offering her hand.

"Our house is always open to Union soldiers," she said simply. "Will you
come again?"

"Thank you," he said. "You don't know, I think, how much you have
already done for me."

They stood a moment looking at one another; then he bowed and turned to
the boy, who caught his hand impulsively.

"I knew my sister would like you!" he exclaimed.

"Everybody is very kind," said the young bandmaster, looking steadily at
the boy.

Again he bowed to the boy's sister, not raising his eyes this time; and,
holding the child's hand tightly in his, he walked out to the porch.

Moses was there to assist him with his long blue mantle; the boy clung
to his gloved hand a moment, then stepped back into the doorway, where
the old servant shuffled about, muttering half aloud: "Yaas, suh. Done
tole you so. He bow lak de quality, he drink lak de Garnetts--what I
tole yo'? Mars Will'm, ef dat ossifer ain' er gin'ral, he gwine be
mighty quick!"

"I don't care," said the boy, "I just love him."

The negro shuffled out across the moonlit veranda, peered around through
the fragrant gloom, wrinkled hands linked behind his back. Then he
descended the steps stiffly, and teetered about through the shrubbery
with the instinct of a watchdog worn out in service.

"Nuff'n to scare nobody, scusin' de hoot owls," he muttered. "Spec'
hit's time Miss Celia bolt de do', 'long o' de sodgers an' all de
gwines-on. Shoo! Hear dat fool chickum crow!" He shook his head, bent
rheumatically, and seated himself on the veranda step, full in the
moonlight. "All de fightin's an' de gwines-on 'long o' dis here wah!" he
soliloquized, joining his shriveled thumbs reflectively. "Whar de use?
Spound dat! Whar all de fool niggers dat done skedaddle 'long o' de
Linkum troopers? Splain dat!" He chuckled; a whip-poor-will answered
breathlessly.

"Dar dat scan'lous widder bird a-hollerin'!" exclaimed the old man,
listening. "'Pears lak we's gwine have moh wah, moh daid men, moh
widders. Dar de ha'nt! Dar de sign an' de warnin'. G'way, widder bird."
He crossed his withered fingers and began rocking to and fro, crooning
softly to himself:

    "Butterfly a-flyin' in de Chinaberry tree
    (Butterfly, flutter by!),
    Kitty gull a-cryin' on the sunset sea
    (Fly, li'l gull, fly high!),
    Bully bat a-follerin' de moon in de sky,
    Widder bird a-hollerin', 'Hi, dar! Hi!'
    Tree toad a-trillin'
    (Sleep, li'l honey!
    De moon cost a shillin'
    But we ain't got money!),
    Sleep, li'l honey,
    While de firefly fly,
    An' Chuck-Will's Widder holler,
    'Hi, dar! Hi!'"

Before dawn the intense stillness was broken by the rushing music of the
birds--a careless, cheery torrent of song poured forth from bramble and
woodland. Distant and nearer cockcrows rang out above the melodious
tumult, through which a low, confused undertone, scarcely apparent at
first, was growing louder--the dull sound of the stirring of many men.

Men? The valley was suddenly alive with them, choking the roads in heavy
silent lines; they were in the lanes, they plodded through the orchards,
they swarmed across the hills, column on column, until the entire
country seemed flowing forward in steady streams. Sandy River awoke,
restlessly listening; lights glimmered behind darkened windows; a
heavier, vaguer rumor grew, hanging along the hills. It increased to a
shaking, throbbing monotone, like the far dissonance of summer thunder!

And now artillery was coming, bumping down the dim street with clatter
of chain and harness jingling.

Up at the great house on the hill they heard it--the boy in his white
nightdress leaning from the open window, and his sleepy sister kneeling
beside him, pushing back her thick hair to peer out into the morning
mist. On came the battery, thudding and clanking, horses on a long
swinging trot, gun, caisson, forge, mounted artillerymen succeeding each
other, faster, faster under the windows. A guidon danced by; more guns,
more caissons, then a trampling, plunging gallop, a rattle of
sabres--and the battery had passed.

"What is that heavy sound behind the hills?" whispered the boy.

"The river rushing over the shallows--perhaps a train on the trestle at
Oxley Court House--" She listened, resting her rounded chin on her
hands. "It is thunder, I think. Go to bed now for a while----"

"Hark!" said the boy, laying his small hand on hers.

"It is thunder," she said again. "How white the dawn is growing. Listen
to the birds--is it not sweet?"

"Celia," whispered the boy, "that is not thunder. It is too hushed, too
steady--it hums and hums and hums. Where was that battery galloping? I
am going to dress."

She looked at him, turned to the east and stared at the coming day. The
air of dawn was full of sounds, ominous, sustained vibrations.

She rose, went back to her room, and lighted a dip. Then, shading the
pallid smoky flame with her hand, she opened a door and peered into the
next bedroom. "Grandfather!" she whispered, smiling, seeing that he was
already awake. And as she leaned over him, searching the dim and
wrinkled eyes, she read something in their unwonted luster that struck
her silent. It was only when she heard her brother's step on the stairs
that she roused herself, bent, and kissed the aged head lying there
inert among the pillows.

"It is cannon," she breathed softly--"you know that sound, don't you,
grandfather? Does it make you happy? Why are you smiling? Look at me--I
understand; you want something. Shall I open the curtains? And raise the
window? Ah, you wish to hear. Hark! Horsemen are passing at a gallop.
What is it you wish--to see them? But they are gone, dear. If any of our
soldiers come, you shall see them. That makes you happy?--_that_ is what
you desire?--to see one of our own soldiers? If they pass, I shall go
out and bring one here to you--truly, I will." She paused, marveling at
the strange light that glimmered across the ravaged visage. Then she
blew out the dip and stole into the hall.

"Billy!" she called, hearing him fumbling at the front door.

"Oh, Celia! The cavalry trumpets! Do you hear? I'm going out. Perhaps
_he_ may pass the house."

"Wait for me," she said; "I am not dressed. Run to the cabin and wake
Moses, dear!"

She heard him open the door; the deadened thunder of the cannonade
filled the house for an instant, shut out by the closing door, only to
swell again to an immense unbroken volume of solemn harmony. The
bird-music had ceased; distant hilltops grew brighter.

Down in the village lights faded from window and cabin; a cavalryman,
signaling from the church tower, whirled his flaming torch aside and
picked up a signal flag. Suddenly the crash of a rifled cannon saluted
the rising sun; a shell soared skyward through the misty glory, towered,
curved, and fell, exploding among the cavalrymen, completely ruining the
breakfasts of chief-trumpeter O'Halloran and kettle-drummer Pillsbury.

For a moment a geyser of ashes, coffee, and bacon rained among the men.

"Hell!" said Pillsbury, furiously wiping his face with his dripping
sleeve and spitting out ashes.

"Young kettle-drums, he don't love his vittles," observed a trooper,
picking up the cap that had been jerked from his head by a whirring
fragment.

"Rich feedin' is the sp'ilin' o' this here hoss band," added the
farrier, stanching the flow of blood from his scalp; "quit quar'lin'
with your rations, kettle-drums!"

"Y'orter swaller them cinders," insisted another; "they don't cost
nothin'!"

The band, accustomed to chaffing, prepared to retire to the ambulance,
where heretofore their fate had always left them among luggage,
surgeons, and scared camp niggers during an engagement.

The Rhode Island battery, placed just north of the church, had opened;
the cavalry in the meadow could see them--see the whirl of smoke, the
cannoneers moving with quick precision amidst obscurity--the flash, the
recoil as gun after gun jumped back, buried in smoke.

It lasted only a few minutes; no more shells came whistling down among
the cavalry; and presently the battery grew silent, and the steaming
hill, belted with vapor, cleared slowly in the breezy sunshine.

The cavalry had mounted and leisurely filed off to the shelter of a
grassy hollow; the band, dismounted, were drawn up to be told off in
squads as stretcher-bearers; the bandmaster was sauntering past, buried
in meditation, his sabre trailing a furrow through the dust, when a
clatter of hoofs broke out along the village street, and a general
officer, followed by a plunging knot of horsemen, tore up and drew
bridle.

The colonel of the cavalry regiment, followed by the chief trumpeter,
trotted out to meet them, saluting sharply; there was a quick exchange
of words; the general officer waved his hand toward the south, wheeled
his horse, hesitated, and pointed at the band.

"How many sabres?" he asked.

"Twenty-seven," replied the colonel--"no carbines."

"Better have them play you in--_if you go_," said the officer.

The colonel saluted and backed his horse as the cavalcade swept past
him; then he beckoned to the bandmaster.

"Here's your chance," he said. "Orders are to charge anything that
appears on that road. You'll play us in this time. Mount your men."

Ten minutes later the regiment, band ahead, marched out of Sandy River
and climbed the hill, halting in the road that passed the great white
mansion. As the outposts moved forward they encountered a small boy on a
pony, who swung his cap at them gayly as he rode. Squads, dismounted,
engaged in tearing away the rail fences bordering the highway, looked
around, shouting a cheery answer to his excited greeting; the colonel on
a ridge to the east lowered his field glasses to watch him; the
bandmaster saw him coming and smiled as the boy drew bridle beside him,
saluting.

"If you're not going to fight, why are you here?" asked the boy
breathlessly.

"It really looks," said the bandmaster, "as though we might fight, after
all."

"_You, too?_"

"Perhaps."

"Then--could you come into the house--just a moment? My sister asked me
to find you."

A bright blush crept over the bandmaster's sun-tanned cheeks.

"With pleasure," he said, dismounting, and leading his horse through the
gateway and across the shrubbery to the trees.

"Celia! Celia!" called the boy, running up the veranda steps. "_He_ is
here! Please hurry, because he's going to have a battle!"

She came slowly, pale and lovely in her black gown, and held out her
hand.

"There is a battle going on all around us, isn't there?" she asked.
"That is what all this dreadful uproar means?"

"Yes," he said; "there is trouble on the other side of those hills."

"Do you think there will be fighting here?"

"I don't know," he said.

She motioned him to a veranda chair, then seated herself. "What shall we
do?" she asked calmly. "I am not alarmed--but my grandfather is
bedridden, and my brother is a child. Is it safe to stay?"

The bandmaster looked at her helplessly.

"I don't know," he repeated--"I don't know what to say. Nobody seems to
understand what is happening; we in the regiment are never told
anything; we know nothing except what passes under our eyes." He broke
off suddenly; the situation, her loneliness, the impending danger,
appalled him.

"May I ask a little favor?" she said, rising. "Would you mind coming in
a moment to see my grandfather?"

He stood up obediently, sheathed sabre in his left hand; she led the way
across the hall and up the stairs, opened the door, and motioned toward
the bed. At first he saw nothing save the pillows and snowy spread.

"Will you speak to him?" she whispered.

He approached the bed, cap in hand.

"He is very old," she said; "he was a soldier of Washington. He desires
to see a soldier of the Union."

And now the bandmaster perceived the occupant of the bed, a palsied,
bloodless phantom of the past--an inert, bedridden, bony thing that
looked dead until its deep eyes opened and fixed themselves on him.

"This is a Union soldier, grandfather," she said, kneeling on the floor
beside him. And to the bandmaster she said in a low voice: "Would you
mind taking his hand? He cannot move."

The bandmaster bent stiffly above the bed and took the old man's hand in
his.

The sunlit room trembled in the cannonade.

"That is all," said the girl simply. She took the fleshless hand, kissed
it, and laid it on the bedspread. "A soldier of Washington," she said
dreamily. "I am glad he has seen you--I think he understands: but he is
very, very old."

She lingered a moment to touch the white hair with her hand; the
bandmaster stepped back to let her pass, then put on his cap, hooked his
sabre, turned squarely toward the bed and saluted.

The phantom watched him as a dying eagle watches; then the slim hand of
the granddaughter fell on the bandmaster's arm, and he turned and
clanked out into the open air.

The boy stood waiting for them, and as they appeared, he caught their
hands in each of his, talking all the while and walking with them to the
gateway, where pony and charger stood, nose to nose under the trees.

"If you need anybody to dash about carrying dispatches," the boy ran on,
"why, I'll do it for you. My father was a soldier, and I'm going to be
one, and I----"

"Billy," said the bandmaster abruptly, "when we charge, go up on that
hill and watch us. If we don't come back, you must be ready to act a
man's part. Your sister counts on you."

They stood a moment there together, saying nothing. Presently some
mounted officers on the hill wheeled their horses and came spurring
toward the column drawn up along the road. A trumpet spoke briskly; the
bandmaster turned to the boy's sister, looked straight into her eyes,
and took her hand.

"I think we're going," he said; "I am trying to thank you--I don't know
how. Good-by."

"Is it a charge?" cried the boy.

"Good-by," said the bandmaster, smiling, holding the boy's hand tightly.
Then he mounted, touched his cap, wheeled, and trotted off, freeing his
sabre with his right hand.

The colonel had already drawn his sabre, the chief bugler sat his
saddle, bugle lifted, waiting. A loud order, repeated from squadron to
squadron, ran down the line; the restive horses wheeled, trampled
forward, and halted.

"Draw--sabres!"

The air shrilled with the swish of steel.

Far down the road horsemen were galloping in--the returning pickets.

"Forward!"

They were moving.

"Steady--right dress!" taken up in turn by the company
officers--"steady--right dress!"

The bandmaster swung his sabre forward; the mounted band followed.

Far away across the level fields something was stirring; the colonel saw
it and turned in his saddle, scanning the column that moved forward on a
walk.

Half a mile, and, passing a hill, an infantry regiment rose in the
shallow trenches to cheer them. Instantly the mounted band burst out
into "The Girl I Left Behind Me"; an electric thrill passed along the
column.

"Steady! Steady! Right dress!" rang the calm orders as a wood, almost
behind them, was suddenly fringed with white smoke and a long, rolling
crackle broke out.

"By fours--right-about--wheel!"

The band swung out to the right; the squadrons passed on; and--"Steady!
Trot! Steady--right dress--gallop!" came the orders.

The wild music of "Garryowen" set the horses frantic--and the men, too.
The band, still advancing at a walk, was dropping rapidly behind. A
bullet hit kettle-drummer Pillsbury, and he fell with a grunt, doubling
up across his nigh kettle-drum. A moment later Peters struck his cymbals
wildly together and fell clean out of his saddle, crashing to the sod.
Schwarz, his trombone pierced by a ball, swore aloud and dragged his
frantic horse into line.

"Right dress!" said the bandmaster blandly, mastering his own splendid
mount as a bullet grazed its shoulder.

They were in the smoke now, they heard the yelling charge ahead, the
rifle fire raging, swelling to a terrific roar; and they marched
forward, playing "Garryowen"--not very well, for Connor's jaw was half
gone, and Bradley's horse was down; and the bandmaster, reeling in the
saddle, parried blow on blow from a clubbed rifle, until a stunning
crack alongside of the head laid him flat across his horse's neck. And
there he clung till he tumbled off, a limp, loose-limbed mass, lying in
the trampled grass under the heavy pall of smoke.

Long before sunset the echoing thunder in the hills had ceased; the edge
of the great battle that had skirted Sandy River, with a volley or two
and an obscure cavalry charge, was ended. Beyond the hills, far away on
the horizon, the men of the North were tramping forward through the
Confederacy. The immense exodus had begun again; the invasion was
developing; and as the tremendous red spectre receded, the hem of its
smoky robe brushed Sandy River and was gone, leaving a scorched regiment
or two along the railroad, and a hospital at Oxley Court House
overcrowded.

In the sunset light the cavalry returned passing the white mansion on
the hill. They brought in their dead and wounded on hay wagons; and the
boy, pale as a spectre, looked on, while the creaking wagons passed by
under the trees.

But it was his sister whose eyes caught the glitter of a gilt and yellow
sleeve lying across the hay; and she dropped her brother's hand and ran
out into the road.

"Is he dead?" she asked the trooper who was driving.

"No, miss. Will you take him in?"

"Yes," she said. "Bring him."

The driver drew rein, wheeled his team, and drove into the great
gateway. "Hospital's plum full, ma'am," he said. "Wait; I'll carry him
up. Head's bust a leetle--that's all. A day's nussin' will bring him
into camp again."

The trooper staggered upstairs with his burden, leaving a trail of dark,
wet spots along the stairs, even up to the girl's bed, where he placed
the wounded man.

The bandmaster became conscious when they laid him on the bed, but the
concussion troubled his eyes so that he was not certain that she was
there until she bent close over him, looking down at him in silence.

"I thought of you--when _I_ was falling," he explained vaguely--"only of
you."

The color came into her face; but her eyes were steady. She set the
flaring dip on the bureau and came back to the bed. "We thought of you,
too," she said.

His restless hand, fumbling the quilt, closed on hers; his eyes were
shut, but his lips moved, and she bent nearer to catch his words:

"We noncombatants get into heaps of trouble--don't we?"

"Yes," she whispered, smiling; "but the worst is over now."

"There is worse coming."

"What?"

"We march--to-morrow. I shall never see you again."

After a silence she strove gently to release her hand; but his held it;
and after a long while, as he seemed to be asleep, she sat down on the
bed's edge, moving very softly lest he awaken. All the tenderness of
innocence was in her gaze, as she laid her other hand over his and left
it there, even after he stirred and his unclosing eyes met hers.

"Celia!" called the boy, from the darkened stairway, "there's a medical
officer here."

"Bring him," she said. She rose, her lingering fingers still in his,
looking down at him all the while; their hands parted, and she moved
backward slowly, her young eyes always on his.

The medical officer passed her, stepping quickly to the bedside, stopped
short, hesitated, and bending, opened the clotted shirt, placing a
steady hand over the heart.

The next moment he straightened up, pulled the sheet over the
bandmaster's face, and turned on his heel, nodding curtly to the girl
as he passed out.

When he had gone, she walked slowly to the bed and drew the sheet from
the bandmaster's face.

And as she stood there, dry-eyed, mute, from the dusky garden came the
whispering cry of the widow bird, calling, calling to the dead that
answer never more.



PART TWO

WHAT SHE BECAME

II

SPECIAL MESSENGER


On the third day the pursuit had become so hot, so unerring, that she
dared no longer follow the rutty cart road. Toward sundown she wheeled
her big bony roan into a cow path which twisted through alders for a
mile or two, emerging at length on a vast stretch of rolling country,
where rounded hills glimmered golden in the rays of the declining sun.
Tall underbrush flanked the slopes; little streams ran darkling through
the thickets; the ground was moist, even on the ridges; and she could
not hope to cover the deep imprint of her horse's feet.

She drew bridle, listening, her dark eyes fixed on the setting sun.
There was no sound save the breathing of her horse, the far sweet
trailing song of a spotted sparrow, the undertones of some hidden rill
welling up through matted tangles of vine and fern and long wild
grasses.

Sitting her worn saddle, sensitive face partly turned, she listened, her
eyes sweeping the bit of open ground behind her. Nothing moved there.

Presently she slipped off one gauntlet, fumbled in her corsage, drew out
a crumpled paper, and spread it flat. It was a map. With one finger she
traced her road, bending in her saddle, eyebrows gathering in
perplexity. Back and forth moved the finger, now hovering here and there
in hesitation, now lifted to her lips in silent uncertainty. Twice she
turned her head, intensely alert, but there was no sound save the cawing
of crows winging across the deepening crimson in the west.

At last she folded the map and thrust it into the bosom of her
mud-splashed habit; then, looping up the skirt of her kirtle, she
dismounted, leading her horse straight into the oak scrub and on through
a dim mile of woodland, always descending, until the clear rushing music
of a stream warned her, and she came out along the thicket's edge into a
grassy vale among the hills.

A cabin stood there, blue smoke lazily rising from the chimney; a hen or
two sat huddled on the shafts of an ancient buckboard standing by the
door. In the clear, saffron-tinted evening light some ducks sailed and
steered about the surface of a muddy puddle by the barn, sousing their
heads, wriggling their tails contentedly.

As she walked toward the shanty, leading her horse, an old man appeared
at the open doorway, milking stool under one gaunt arm, tin pail
dangling from the other. Astonished, he regarded the girl steadily,
answering her low, quick greeting with a nod of his unkempt gray head.

"How far is the pike?" she asked.

"It might be six mile," he said, staring.

"Is there a wood road?"

He nodded.

"Where does it lead?"

"It leads just now," he replied grimly, "into a hell's mint o' rebels.
What's your business in these parts, ma'am?"

Her business was to trust no one, yet there had been occasions when she
had been forced to such a risk. This was one. She looked around at the
house, the dismantled buckboard tenanted by roosting chickens, the ducks
in the puddle, the narrow strip of pasture fringing the darkening woods.
She looked into his weather-ravaged visage, searching the small eyes
that twinkled at her intently out of a mass of wrinkles.

"Are you a Union man?" she asked.

His face hardened; a slow color crept into the skin above his sharp
cheek bones. "What's that to you?" he demanded.

"Here in Pennsylvania we expect to find Union sentiments. Besides, you
just now spoke of rebels----"

"Yes, an' I'll say it again," he repeated doggedly; "the Pennsylvany
line is crawlin' with rebels, an' they'll butt into our cavalry before
morning."

She laughed, stepping nearer, the muddy skirt of her habit lifted.

"I must get to Reynolds's corps to-night," she said confidingly. "I came
through the lines three days ago; their cavalry have followed me ever
since. I can't shake them off; they'll be here by morning--as soon as
there's light enough to trace my horse."

She looked back at the blue woods thoughtfully, patting her horse's
sleek neck.

He followed her glance, then his narrowing eyes focused on her as she
turned her head toward him again.

"What name?" he asked harshly, hand to his large ear.

She smiled, raising her riding whip in quaint salute; and in a low voice
she named herself demurely.

There was a long silence.

"Gosh!" he muttered, fascinated gaze never leaving her; "to think that
you are that there gal! I heard tell you was young, an' then I heard
tell you was old an' fat, ma'am. I guess there ain't many has seen you
to take notice. I guess you must be hard run to even tell me who ye be?"

She said quietly: "I think they mean to get me this time. Is there a
clear road anywhere? Even if I leave my horse and travel afoot?"

"Is it a hangin' matter?" he asked.

She shrugged her shoulders.

Presently he said: "The hull blame country's crawlin' with rebel
cavalry. I was to Mink Creek, an' they was passin' on the pike, wagons
an' guns as fur as I could see. They levied on Swamp Holler at sunup;
they was on every road along the State line. There ain't no road nor cow
path clear that way."

"And none the other way," she said. "Can't you help me?"

He looked at her gravely, then his small eyes swept the limited
landscape.

"A hangin' matter," he mused, scratching his gray head reflectively.
"An' if they ketch you here, I guess I'll go to Libby, too. Hey?"

He passed his labor-worn hand over his eyes, pressing the lids, and
stood so, minute after minute, buried in thought.

"Waal," he said, dropping his hand and blinking in the ruddy glow from
the west, "I guess I ain't done nothin' fur the Union yet, but I'm
a-goin' to now, miss."

He looked around once more, his eyes resting on familiar scenery, then
he set down milking stool and pail and shuffled out to where her horse
stood.

"Guess I'll hev to hitch your hoss up to that there buckboard," he
drawled. "My old nag is dead two year since. You go in, miss, an' dress
in them clothes a-hangin' onto that peg by the bed," he added, with an
effort. "Use 'em easy; they was _hers_."

She entered the single room of the cabin, where stove, table, chair, and
bed were the only furniture. A single cheap print gown and a sunbonnet
hung from a nail at the bed's foot, and she reached up and unhooked the
garment. It was ragged but clean, and the bonnet freshly ironed.

Through the window she saw the old man unsaddling her horse and fitting
him with rusty harness. She closed the cabin door, drew the curtain at
the window, and began to unbutton her riding jacket. As her clothing
fell from her, garment after garment, that desperate look came into her
pale young face again, and she drew from her pocket a heavy army
revolver and laid it on the chair beside her. There was scarce light
enough left to see by in the room. She sat down, dragging off her
spurred boots, stripping the fine silk stockings from her feet, then
rose and drew on the faded print gown.

Now she needed more light, so she opened the door wide and pushed aside
the curtain. A fragment of cracked mirror was nailed to the door. She
faced it, rapidly undoing the glossy masses of her hair; then lifting
her gown, she buckled the army belt underneath, slipped the revolver
into it, smoothed out the calico, and crossed the floor to the bed
again, at the foot of which a pair of woman's coarse, low shoes stood on
the carpetless floor. Into these she slipped her naked feet.

He was waiting for her when she came out into the yellow evening light,
squatting there in his buckboard, reins sagging.

"There's kindlin' to last a week," he said, "the ax is in the barn, an'
ye'll find a bin full o' corn meal there an' a side o' bacon in the
cellar. Them hens," he added wistfully "is Dominickers. _She_ was fond
o' them--an' the Chiny ducks, too."

"I'll be kind to them," she said.

He rested his lean jaw in one huge hand, musing, dim-eyed, silent. Far
away a cow bell tinkled, and he turned his head, peering out across the
tangled pasture lot.

"We called our caow Jinny," he said. "She's saucy and likes to plague
folks. But I don't never chase her; no, ma'am. You jest set there by
them pasture bars, kinder foxin' that you ain't thinkin' o' nothin',
and Jinny she'll come along purty soon."

The girl nodded.

"Waal," he muttered, rousing up, "I guess it's time to go." He looked at
her, his eyes resting upon the clothing of his dead wife.

"You see," he said, "I've give all I've got to the Union. Now, ma'am,
what shall I tell our boys if I git through?"

In a low, clear voice she gave him the message to Reynolds, repeating it
slowly until he nodded his comprehension.

"If they turn you back," she said, "and if they follow you here,
remember I'm your daughter."

He nodded again. "My Cynthy."

"Cynthia?"

"Yaas, 'm. Cynthy was _her_ name, you see; James is mine, endin' in
Gray. I'll come back when I can. I guess there's vittles to spare an'
garden sass----"

He passed his great cracked knuckles over his face again, digging
hastily into the corners of his eyes, then leaned forward and shook the
rusty reins.

"Git up!" he said thoughtfully, and the ancient buckboard creaked away
into the thickening twilight.

She watched him from the door, lingering there, listening to the creak
of the wheels long after he had disappeared. She was deadly tired--too
tired to eat, too tired to think--yet there was more to be done before
she closed her eyes. The blanket on the bed she spread upon the floor,
laid in it her saddle and bridle, boots, papers, map, and clothing, and
made a bundle; then slinging it on her slender back, she carried it up
the ladder to the loft under the roof.

Ten minutes later she lay on the bed below, the back of one hand across
her closed eyes, breathing deeply as a sleeping child--the most
notorious spy in all America, the famous "Special Messenger," carrying
locked under her smooth young breast a secret the consequence of which
no man could dare to dream of.

                 *       *       *       *       *

Dawn silvering the east aroused her. Cockcrow, ducks quacking, the
lowing of the cow, the swelling melody of wild birds--these were the
sounds that filled her waking ears.

Motionless there on the bed in the dim room, delicate bare arms
outstretched, hair tumbled over brow and shoulder, she lay, lost in
fearless retrospection--absolutely fearless, for courage was hers
without effort; peril exhilarated like wine, without reaction; every
nerve and contour of her body was instinct with daring, and only the
languor of her dark eyes misled the judgment of those she had to deal
with.

Presently she sat up in bed, yawned lightly, tapping her red lips with
the tips of her fingers; then, drawing her revolver from beneath the
pillow, she examined the cylinder, replaced the weapon, and sprang out
of bed, stretching her arms, a faint smile hovering on her face.

The water in the stream was cold, but not too cold for her, nor were the
coarse towels too rough, sending the blood racing through her from head
to foot.

Her toilet made, she lighted the fire in the cracked stove, set a pot of
water boiling, and went out to the doorstep, calling the feathered flock
around her, stirring their meal in a great pan the while her eyes roamed
about the open spaces of meadow and pasture for a sign of those who
surely must trace her here.

Her breakfast was soon over--an ash cake, a new egg from the barn, a
bowl of last night's creamy milk. She ate slowly, seated by the window,
raising her head at intervals to watch the forest's edge.

Nobody came; the first pink sunbeams fell level over the pasture; dew
sparkled on grass and foliage; birds flitted across her line of vision;
the stream sang steadily, flashing in the morning radiance.

One by one the ducks stretched, flapped their snowy wings, wiggled their
fat tails, and waddled solemnly down to the water; hens wandered
pensively here and there, pecking at morsels that attracted them; the
tinkle of the cow bell sounded pleasantly from a near willow thicket.

She washed her dishes, set the scant furniture in place, made up the bed
with the clean sheet spread the night before, and swept the floor.

On the table she had discovered, carefully folded up, the greater
portion of a stocking, knitting needles still sticking in it, the ball
of gray yarn attached. But she could not endure to sit there; she must
have more space to watch for what she knew was coming. Her hair she
twisted up as best she might, set the pink sunbonnet on her head,
smoothed out the worn print dress, which was not long enough to hide her
slim bare ankles, and went out, taking her knitting with her.

Upon the hill along the edges of the pasture where the woods cast a
luminous shadow she found a comfortable seat in the sun-dried grasses,
and here she curled up, examining the knitting in her hands, eyes lifted
every moment to steal a glance around the sunlit solitude.

An hour crept by, marked by the sun in mounting splendor; the sweet
scent of drying grass and fern filled her lungs; the birds' choral
thrilled her with the loveliness of life. A little Southern song
trembled on her lips, and her hushed voice murmuring was soft as the
wild bees' humming:

    "Ah, who could couple thought of war and crime
    With such a blessed time?
    Who, in the west wind's aromatic breath,
    Could hear the call of Death?"

The gentle Southern poet's flowing rhythm was echoed by the distant
stream:

    " ... A fragrant breeze comes floating by,
    And brings--you know not why--
    A feeling as when eager crowds await
    Before a palace gate
    Some wondrous pageant----"

She lifted her eyes, fixing them upon the willow thicket below, where
the green tops swayed as though furrowed by a sudden wind; and watching
calmly, her lips whispered on, following the quaint rhythm:

    "And yet no sooner shall the Spring awake
    The voice of wood and brake
    Than she shall rouse--for all her tranquil charms--
    A million men to arms."

The willow tops were tossing violently. She watched them, murmuring:

    "Oh! standing on this desecrated mold,
    Methinks that I behold,
    Lifting her bloody daisies up to God,
    Spring--kneeling on the sod,
    And calling with the voice of all her rills
    Upon the ancient hills
    To fall and crush the tyrants and the slaves
    Who turn her meads to graves."

Her whisper ceased; she sat, lips parted, eyes fastened on the willows.
Suddenly a horseman broke through the thicket, then another, another,
carbines slung, sabres jingling, rider following rider at a canter,
sitting their horses superbly--the graceful, reckless, matchless cavalry
under whose glittering gray curtain the most magnificent army that the
South ever saw was moving straight into the heart of the Union.

Fascinated, she watched an officer dismount, advance to the house, enter
the open doorway, and disappear. Minute after minute passed; the
troopers quietly sat their saddles; the frightened chickens ventured
back, roaming curiously about these strange horses that stood there
stamping, whisking their tails, tossing impatient heads in the sunshine.

Presently the officer reappeared and walked straight to the barn, a
trooper dismounting to follow him. They remained in the barn for a few
moments only, then hurried out again, heads raised, scanning the low
circling hills. Ah! Now they caught sight of her! She saw the officer
come swinging up the hillside, buttons, spurs, and sword hilt glittering
in the sun; she watched his coming with a calm almost terrible in its
breathless concentration. Nearer, nearer he came, mounting the easy
slope with a quick, boyish swing; and now he had halted, slouch hat
aloft; and she heard his pleasant, youthful voice:

"I reckon you haven't seen a stranger pass this way, ma'am, have you?"

"There was a lady came last night," she answered innocently.

"That's the one!" he said, in his quick, eager voice. "Can you tell me
where she went?"

"She said she was going west."

"Has she gone?"

"She left the house when I did," answered the girl simply.

"Riding!" he exclaimed. "She came on a hoss, I reckon?"

"Yes."

"And she rode west?"

"I saw her going west," she nodded, resuming her knitting.

The officer turned toward the troopers below, drew out a handkerchief
and whipped the air with it for a second or two, then made a sweeping
motion with his arm, and drawing his sabre struck it downward four
times.

Instantly the knot of troopers fell apart, scattering out and spurring
westward in diverging lines; the officer watched them until the last
horse had disappeared, then he lazily sheathed his sabre, unbuckled a
field glass, adjusted it, and seated himself on the grass beside her.

"Have you lived here long?" he asked pleasantly, setting the glass to
his eye and carefully readjusting the lens.

"No."

"Your father is living, is he not?"

She did not reply.

"I reckon Gilson's command met him a piece back in the scrub, driving a
wagon and a fine horse."

She said nothing; her steady fingers worked the needles, and presently
he heard her softly counting the stitches as she turned the heel.

"He said we'd find his 'Cynthy' here," observed the youthful officer,
lowering his glass. "Are you Cynthia Gray, ma'am?"

"He named me Cynthia," she said, with a smile.

He plucked a blade of grass, and placing it between his white teeth,
gazed at her so steadily that she dropped a stitch, recovered it, and
presently he saw her lips resuming the silent count. He reseated himself
on the grass, laying his field glass beside him.

"I reckon your folk are all Yankee," he ventured softly.

She nodded.

"Are you afraid of us? Do you hate us, ma'am?"

She shook her head, stealing a glance at him from her lovely eyes. If
that was part of her profession, she had learned it well; for he laughed
and stretched out, resting easily on one elbow, looking up at her
admiringly under her faded sunbonnet.

"Are you ever lonely here?" he inquired gravely.

Again her dark eyes rested on him shyly, but she shook her head in
silence.

"Never lonely without anybody to talk to?" he persisted, removing his
slouched army hat and passing his hands over his forehead.

"What have I to say to anybody?" she asked coquettishly.

A little breeze sprang up, stirring his curly hair and fluttering the
dangling strings of her sunbonnet. He lay at full length there, a
slender, athletic figure in his faded gray uniform, idly pulling the
grass up to twist and braid into a thin green rope.

The strange exhilaration that danger had brought had now subsided; she
glanced at him indifferently, noting the well-shaped head, the boyish
outlines of face and figure. He was no older than she--and not very wise
for his years.

Presently, very far away, the dulled report of a carbine sounded,
stirring a deadened echo among the hills.

"What's that?" she exclaimed.

"Yank, I reckon," he drawled, rising to his feet and fixing his field
glass steadily on the hills beyond.

"Are you going to have a battle here?" she asked.

He laughed. "Oh, no, Miss Cynthia. That's only bushwhacking."

"But--but where are they shooting?"

He pointed to the west. "There's Yankee cavalry loafing in the hills. I
reckon we'll gobble 'em, too. But don't _you_ worry, Miss Cynthia," he
added gallantly. "_I_ shall be here to-night, and by sunrise there won't
be a soldier within ten miles of you."

"Within ten miles," she murmured; "ten miles is too near. I--I think I
will go back to the house."

He looked down at her; she raised her dark eyes to him; then he bowed
and gallantly held out both hands, and she laid her hands in his,
suffering him to lift her to her feet.

The brief contact set the color mounting to his sunburnt temples; it had
been a long while since he had touched a young girl's hand.

"I wonder," she said, "whether you would care to share my dinner?"

She spoke naturally, curiously; all idea of danger was over; she was
free to follow her own instincts, which were amiable. Besides, the boy
was a gentleman.

"If it wouldn't be too much to ask--too inconvenient--" He hesitated,
hat in hand, handsome face brightening.

"No; I want you to come," she answered simply, and took his hand in
hers.

A deeper color swept his face as they descended the gentle slope
together, she amused and quietly diverted by his shyness, and thinking
how she meant to give this boyish rebel a better dinner than he had had
for many a long mile.

And she did, he aiding her with the vegetables, she mixing johnnycake
for the entire squad, slicing the bacon, and setting the coffee to boil.

Toward midday the scouting squad returned, to find their officer
shelling peas on the cabin steps, and a young girl, sleeves at her
shoulders, stirring something very vigorously in a large black
kettle--something that exhaled an odor which made the lank troopers lick
their gaunt lips in furtive hope.

The sergeant of the troop reported; the officer nodded and waved the
horsemen away to the barn, where they were presently seen squatting
patiently in a row, sniffing the aroma that floated from the cabin door.

"Did your men find the lady?" she asked, looking out at him where he
sat, busy with the peas.

"No, Miss Cynthia. But if she went west she's run into the whole
Confederate cavalry. Our business is to see she doesn't double back
here."

"Why do you follow her?"

"Ah, Miss Cynthia," he said gravely, "she is that 'Special Messenger'
who has done us more damage than a whole Yankee army corps. We've got
to stop her this time--and I reckon we will."

The girl stirred the soup, salted it, peppered it, lifted the pewter
spoon and tasted it. Presently she called for the peas.

About two o'clock that afternoon a row of half-famished Confederate
cavalrymen sat devouring the best dinner they had eaten in months. There
was potato soup, there was johnnycake, smoking hot coffee, crisp slices
of fragrant bacon, an egg apiece, and a vegetable stew. Trooper after
trooper licked fingers, spoon, and pannikin, loosening leather belts
with gratified sighs; the pickets came cantering in when the relief,
stuffed to repletion, took their places, carbine on thigh.

Flushed from the heat of the stove, arms still bared, the young hostess
sat at table with the officer in command, and watched him in sympathy as
he ate.

She herself ate little, tasting a morsel here and there, drinking at
times from the cup of milk beside her.

"I declare, Miss Cynthia," he said, again and again, "this is the finest
banquet, ma'am, that I ever sat down to."

She only thought, "The boy was starving!" and the indulgent smile
deepened as she sat there watching him, chin resting on her linked
hands.

At last he was satisfied, and a little ashamed, too, of his appetite,
but she told him it was a pleasure to cook for him, and sent him off to
the barn, where presently she spied him propped up in the loft window, a
map spread on his knees, and his field glass tucked under one arm.

And now she had leisure to think again, and she leaned back in her chair
by the window, bared arms folded, ankles crossed, frowning in
meditation.

She must go; the back trail was clear now. But she needed her own
clothing and a horse. Where could she find a horse?

Hour after hour she sat there. He had cantered off into the woods long
since; and all through the long afternoon she sat there scheming,
pondering, a veiled sparkle playing under her half-closed lids. She saw
him returning in the last lingering sun rays, leading his saddled horse
down to the brook, and stand there, one arm flung across the crupper,
while the horse drank and shook his thoroughbred head and lipped the
tender foliage that overhung the water. There was the horse she
required! She must have him.

A few minutes later, bridle over one arm, the young officer came
sauntering up to the doorstep. He was pale, but he smiled when he saw
her, and his weather-beaten hat swept the grass in salute as she came to
the door and looked down at him, hands clasped behind her slender back.

"You look dreadfully tired," she said gently. "Don't you ever sleep?"

He had been forty-eight hours in the saddle, but he only laughed a gay
denial of fatigue.

She descended the steps, walked over to the horse, and patted neck and
shoulder, scanning limb and chest and flank. The horse would do!

"Will you hitch your horse and come in?" she asked sweetly.

"Thank you, ma'am." He passed the bridle through the hitching ring at
the door, and, hat in hand, followed her into the cabin. His boots
dragged a little, but he straightened up, and when she had seated
herself, he sank into a chair, closing his sunken eyes for a moment,
only to open them smiling, and lean forward on the rough table, folding
his arms under him.

"You have been very good to us, Miss Cynthia," he said. "My men want me
to say so."

"Your men are welcome," she answered, resting her cheek on her hand.

There was a long silence, broken by her: "You are dying for sleep. Why
do you deny it? You may lie down on my bed if you wish."

He protested, thanking her, but said he would be glad to sleep in the
hay if she permitted; and he rose, steadying himself by the back of his
chair.

"I always sleep bridle in hand," he said. "A barn floor is luxury for my
horse and me."

That would not do. The horse must remain. She _must_ have that horse!

"I will watch your horse," she said. "Please lie down there. I really
wish it."

"Why, ma'am, I should never venture----"

She looked at him; her heart laughed with content. Here was an easy way
for stern necessity.

"Sleep soundly," she said, with a gay smile; and before he could
interpose, she had slipped out and shut the door behind her.

The evening was calm; the last traces of color were fading from the
zenith. Pacing the circle of the cabin clearing, she counted the
videttes--one in the western pasture, one sitting his saddle in the
forest road to the east, and a horseman to the south, scarcely visible
in the gathering twilight. She passed the barnyard, head lifted
pensively, carefully counting the horses tethered there. Twelve! Then
there was no guard for the northern cattle path--the trail over which
she and they had come!

Now walking slowly back to the cabin, she dropped her slippers and
mounted the steps on bare feet, quietly opening the door. At first in
the dim light she could see nothing, then her keen ear caught the quiet
sound of his breathing, and she stole over to the bed. He lay there
asleep.

Now seconds meant eternity, perhaps; she mounted the ladder to the
attic, tiptoed over the loose boards, felt around for her packet, and
loosened the blanket.

By sense of touch alone she dressed, belting in the habit with her
girdle, listening, every sense alert. But her hand never shook, her
fingers were deft and steady, fastening button and buckle, looping up
her skirt, strapping the revolver to her girdle. She folded map and
papers noiselessly, tucking them into her bosom; then, carrying her
spurred boots, she crept across the boards again, and descended the
ladder without a sound.

The fading light from the window fell upon the bed where he lay; and she
smiled almost tenderly as she stole by him, he looked so young lying
there, his curly head pillowed on his arms.

Another step and she was beside him; another; she stopped short, and her
heart seemed to cease at the same instant. Was she deceived? Were his
eyes wide open?

Suddenly he sat bolt-upright in the bed, and at the same instant she
bent and struck him a stunning blow with the butt of her revolver.

Breathless, motionless, she saw him fall back and lie there without a
quiver; presently she leaned over him, tore open his jacket and shirt,
and laid her steady hand upon his heart. For a moment she remained
there, looking down into his face; then with a sob she bent and kissed
him on the lips.

                 *       *       *       *       *

At midnight, as she was riding out of the hill scrub, a mounted vidette
hailed her on the Gettysburg pike, holding her there while horseman
after horseman galloped up, and the officer of the guard came cantering
across the fields at the far summons.

A lantern glimmered, flared up; there was a laugh, the sound of a dozen
horses backing, a low voice: "Pass! Special Messenger for headquarters!"

Then the lantern-light flashed and went out; shadowy horsemen wheeled
away east and west, trotting silently to posts across the sod.

Far away among the hills the Special Messenger was riding through the
night, head bent, tight-lipped, her dark eyes wet with tears.



III

ABSOLUTION


Just before daylight the unshaven sentinels at headquarters halted her;
a lank corporal arrived, swinging a lighted lantern, which threw a
yellow radiance over horse and rider. Then she dismounted.

Mud smeared her riding jacket; boots and skirt were clotted with it; so
was the single army spur. Her horse stretched a glossy, sweating neck
and rolled wisely-suspicious eyes at the dazzling light. On the gray
saddle cloth glimmered three gilt letters, C. S. A.

"What name, ma'am?" repeated the corporal, coming closer with lifted
lantern, and passing an inquiring thumb over the ominous letters
embroidered on the saddle cloth.

"No name," she said. "They will understand--inside there."

"That your hoss, ma'am?"

"It seems to be."

"Swap him with a Johnny?"

"No; took him from a Johnny."

"Shucks!" said the corporal, examining the gilt letters. Then, looking
around at her:

"Wa'll, the ginrall, he's some busy."

"Please say that his messenger is here."

"Orders is formuel, ma'am. I dassent----"

She pronounced a word under her breath.

"Hey?"

She nodded.

"Tain't _her_?" demanded the corporal incredulously.

She nodded again. The corporal's lantern and jaw dropped in unison.

"Speak low," she said, smiling.

He leaned toward her; she drew nearer, inclining her pretty, disheveled
head with its disordered braids curling into witchlocks on her
shoulders.

"'Tain't _the_ Special Messenger, ma'am, is it?" he inquired hoarsely.
"The boys is tellin' how you was ketched down to----"

She made him a sign for silence as the officer of the guard came up--an
ill-tempered, heavily-bandaged young man.

"What the ----" he began, but, seeing a woman's muddy skirt in the
lantern light, checked his speech.

The corporal whispered in his ear; both stared. "I guess it's all
right," said the officer. "Won't you come in? The general is asleep;
he's got half an hour more, but I'll wake him if you say so."

"I can wait half an hour."

"Take her horse," said the officer briefly, then led the way up the
steps of a white porch buried under trumpet vines in heavy bloom.

The door stood open, so did every window on the ground floor, for the
July night was hot. A sentry stood inside the wide hall, resting on his
rifle, sleeves rolled to his elbows, cap pushed back on his flushed
young forehead.

There was a candle burning in the room on the right; an old artillery
officer leaned over the center table, asleep, round, red face buried in
his arms, sabre tucked snugly between his legs, like the tail of a
sleeping dog; an aide-de-camp slept heavily on a mahogany sofa, jacket
unbuttoned, showing the white, powerful muscles of his chest, all
glistening with perspiration. Beside the open window sat a thin figure
in the uniform of a signal officer, and at first when the Special
Messenger looked at him she thought he also was asleep.

Then, as though her entrance had awakened him, he straightened up,
passed one long hand over his face, looked at her through the
candlelight, and rose with a grace too unconscious not to have been
inherited.

The bandaged officer of the guard made a slovenly gesture, half salute,
half indicative: "The Messenger," he announced, and, half turning on his
heel as he left the room, "our signal officer, Captain West," in
deference to a convention almost forgotten.

Captain West drew forward an armchair; the Special Messenger sank into
its tufted depths and stripped the gauntlets from her sun-tanned
hands--narrow hands, smooth as a child's, now wearily coiling up the
lustrous braids which sagged to her shoulders under the felt riding
hat. And all the while, from beneath level brows, her dark, distrait
eyes were wandering from the signal officer to the sleeping major of
artillery, to the aide snoring on the sofa, to the trumpet vines hanging
motionless outside the open window. But all she really saw was Captain
West.

He appeared somewhat young and thin, his blond hair and mustache were
burned hay-color. He was adjusting eyeglasses to a narrow, well-cut
nose; under a scanty mustache his mouth had fallen into pleasant lines,
the nearsighted eyes, now regarding her normally from behind the
glasses, seemed clear, unusually pleasant, even a trifle mischievous.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" he asked respectfully.

"After the general is awake--if I might have the use of a room--and a
little fresh water--" Speech died in her throat; some of the color died
in her face, too.

"Did you wish me to awake him now? If your business is urgent I will,"
said Captain West.

She did not reply; an imperceptible twitching tightened her lips; then
the young mouth relaxed, drooping a trifle at the corners. Lying there,
so outwardly calm, her tired, faraway gaze fixed absently on him, she
seemed on the verge of slumber.

"If your business is urgent," he was repeating pleasantly. But she made
no answer.

Urgent? No, not now. It had been urgent a second or two ago. But not
now. There was time--time to lie there looking at him, time to try to
realize such things as triumph, accomplishment, the excitement of
achievement; time to relax from the long, long strain and lie nerveless,
without strength, yielding languidly to the reaction from a task well
done.

So this was success? A pitiful curiosity made her eyes wistful for an
instant. Success? It had not come as she expected.

Was her long quest over? Was this the finish? Had all ended here--here
at headquarters, whither she had returned to take up, patiently, the
lost trail once more?

Her dark gaze rested on this man dreamily; but her heart, after its
first painful bound of astonishment, was beating now with heavy,
sickened intelligence. The triumph had come too suddenly.

"Are you hungry?" he asked.

She was not hungry. There was a bucket of water and a soldier's tin cup
on the window sill; and, forestalling him instinctively, she reached
over, plunged the cup into the tepid depths and drank.

"I was going to offer you some," he said, amused; and over the brimming
cup she smiled back, shuddering.

"If you care to lie down for a few moments I'll move that youngster off
the sofa," he suggested.

But fatigue had vanished; she was terribly awake now.

"Can't you sleep? You are white as death. I'll call you in an hour," he
ventured gently, with that soft quality in his voice which sounded so
terrible in her ears--so dreadful that she sat up in an uncontrollable
tremor of revolt.

"What did you ask me?"

"I thought you might wish to sleep for half an hour----"

Sleep? She shook her head, wondering whether sleep would be more
merciful to her at this time to-morrow--or the next day--or ever again.
And all the time, apparently indifferent and distrait, she was studying
every detail of this man; his lean features, his lean limbs, his thin,
muscular hands, his uniform, the slim, light sabre which he balanced
with both hands across his angular knees; the spurred boots, well
groomed and well fitted; the polished cross-straps supporting field
glasses and holster.

"Are you the famous Special Messenger?--if it is not a military
indiscretion to name you," he asked, with a glint of humor in his
pleasant eyes. It seemed to her as though something else glimmered
there, too--the faintest flash of amused recklessness, as though gayly
daring any destiny that might menace. He was younger than she had
thought, and it sickened her to realize that he was quite as amiably
conscious of her as any well-bred man may be who permits himself to
recognize the charm of an attractive woman. All at once a deathly
feeling came over her--faintness, which passed--repugnance, which gave
birth to a desperate hope. The hope flickered; only the momentary
necessity for self-persuasion kept it alive. She must give him every
chance; she must take from him none. Not that for one instant she was
afraid of herself--of failing in duty; she understood that she _could_
not. But she had not expected this moment to come in such a fashion. No;
there was more for her to do, a chance--barely a miracle of chance--that
she might be mistaken.

"Why do you think I am the Special Messenger, Captain West?"

There was no sign of inward tumult under her smooth, flushed mask as she
lay back, elbows set on the chair's padded arms, hands clasped together.
Over them she gazed serenely at the signal officer. And he looked back
at her.

"Other spies come to headquarters," he said, "but you are the only one
so far who embodies my ideal of the highly mysterious Special
Messenger."

"Do I appear mysterious?"

"Not unattractively so," he said, smiling.

"I have heard," she said, "that the Union spy whom they call the Special
Messenger is middle-aged and fat."

"I've heard that, too," he nodded, with a twinkle in his gray eyes--"and
I've heard also that she's red-headed, peppered with freckles,
and--according to report--bow-legged from too many cross-saddles."

"Please observe my single spur," she said, extending her slender, booted
foot; "and you will notice that I don't fit that passport."

"My idea of her passport itemizes every feature you possess," he said,
laughing; "five feet seven; dark hair, brown eyes, regular features,
small, well-shaped hands----"

"Please--Captain West!"

"I beg your pardon--" very serious.

"I am not offended.... What time is it, if you please?"

He lifted the candle, looked closely at his watch and informed her; she
expressed disbelief, and stretched out her hand for the watch. He may
not have noticed it; he returned the watch to his pocket.

She sank back in her chair, very thoughtful. Her glimpse of the monogram
on the back of the watch had not lasted long enough. Was it an M or a W
she had seen?

The room was hot; the aide on the sofa ceased snoring; one spurred heel
had fallen to the floor, where it trailed limply. Once or twice he
muttered nonsense in his sleep.

The major of artillery grunted, lifted a congested face from the cradle
of his folded arms, blinked at them stupidly, then his heavy,
close-clipped head fell into his arms again. The candle glimmered on his
tarnished shoulder straps.

A few moments later a door at the end of the room creaked and a
fully-lathered visage protruded. Two gimlet eyes surveyed the scene; a
mouth all awry from a sabre-slash closed grimly as Captain West rose to
attention.

"Is there any fresh water?" asked the general. "There's a dead mouse in
this pail."

At the sound of his voice the aide awoke, got onto his feet, took the
pail, and wandered off into the house somewhere; the artillery officer
rose with a dreadful yawn, and picked up his forage cap and gauntlets.

Then he yawned again, showing every yellow tooth in his head.

The general opened his door wider, standing wiry and erect in boots and
breeches. His flannel shirt was open at the throat; lather covered his
features, making the distorted smile that crept over them unusually
hideous.

"Well, I'm glad to see _you_," he said to the Special Messenger; "come
in while I shave. West, is there anything to eat? All right; I'm ready
for it. Come in, Messenger, come in!"

She entered, closing the bedroom door; the general shook hands with her
slyly, saying, "I'm devilish glad you got through, ma'am. Have any
trouble down below?"

"Some, General."

He nodded and began to shave; she stripped off her tight outer jacket,
laid it on the table, and, ripping the lining stitches, extracted some
maps and shreds of soft paper covered with notes and figures.

Over these, half shaved, the general stooped, razor in hand, eyes
following her forefinger as she traced in silence the lines she had
drawn. There was no need for her to speak, no reason for him to inquire;
her maps were perfectly clear, every route named, every regiment, every
battery labeled, every total added up.

Without a word she called his attention to the railroad and the note
regarding the number of trains.

"We've got to get at it, somehow," he said. "What are those?"

"Siege batteries, General--on the march."

His mutilated mouth relaxed into a grin.

"They seem to be allfired sure of us. What are they saying down below?"

[Illustration: "'They seem to be allfired sure of us.'"]

"They talk of being in Washington by the fifteenth, sir."

"Oh.... What's that topographical symbol--here?" placing one finger on
the map.

"That is the Moray Mansion--or was."

"_Was?_"

"Our cavalry burned it two weeks ago Thursday."

"Find anything to help you there?"

She nodded.

The general returned to his shaving, completed it, came back and
examined the papers again.

"That infantry, there," he said, "are you sure it's Longstreet's?"

"Yes, sir."

"You didn't see Longstreet, did you?"

"Yes, sir; and talked with him."

The general's body servant knocked, announcing breakfast, and left the
general's boots and tunic, both carefully brushed. When he had gone out
again, the Special Messenger said very quietly:

"I expect to report on the Moray matter before night."

The general buckled in his belt and hooked up his sword.

"If you can nail that fellow," he said, speaking very slowly, "I guess
you can come pretty close to getting whatever you ask for from
Washington."

For a moment she stood very silent there, her ripped jacket hanging limp
over her arm; then, with a pallid smile:

"Anything I ask for? Did you say that, sir?"

He nodded.

"Even if I ask for--his pardon?"

The general laughed a distorted laugh.

"I guess we'll bar that," he said. "Will you breakfast, ma'am? The next
room is free, if you want it."

Headquarters bugles began to sound as she crossed the hall, jacket
dangling over her arm, and pushed open the door of a darkened room. The
air within was stifling, she opened a window and thrust back the blinds,
and at the same moment the ringing crack of a rifled cannon shattered
the silence of dawn. Very, very far away a dull boom replied.

Outside, in dusky obscurity, cavalry were mounting; a trooper, pumping
water from a well under her window, sang quietly to himself in an
undertone as he worked, then went off carrying two brimming buckets.

The sour, burned stench of stale campfires tainted the morning
freshness.

She leaned on the sill, looking out into the east. Somewhere yonder,
high against the sky, they were signaling with torches. She watched the
red flames swinging to right, to left, dipping, circling; other sparks
broke out to the north, where two army corps were talking to each other
with fire.

As the sky turned gray, one by one the forest-shrouded hills took shape;
details began to appear; woodlands grew out of fathomless shadows,
fields, fences, a rocky hillock close by, trees in an orchard, some
Sibley tents.

And with the coming of day a widening murmur grew out of the invisible,
a swelling monotone through which, incessantly, near and distant,
broken, cheery little flurries of bugle music, and far and farther
still, where mists hung over a vast hollow in the hills, the dropping
shots of the outposts thickened to a steady patter, running backward and
forward, from east to west, as far as the ear could hear.

A soldier brought her some breakfast; later he came again with her
saddlebags and a big bucket of fresh water, taking away her riding
habit and boots, which she thrust at him from the half-closed door.

Her bath was primitive enough; a sheet from the bed dried her, the
saddlebags yielded some fresh linen, a pair of silk stockings and a
comb.

Sitting there behind closed blinds, her smooth body swathed to the waist
in a sheet, she combed out the glossy masses of her hair before braiding
them once more around her temples; and her dark eyes watched daylight
brighten between the slits in the blinds.

The cannonade was gradually becoming tremendous, the guns tuning up by
batteries. There was, however, as yet, no platoon firing distinguishable
through the sustained crackle of the fusillade; columns of dust, hanging
above fields and woodlands, marked the courses of every northern road
where wagons and troops were already moving west and south; the fog from
the cannon turned the rising sun to a pulsating, cherry-tinted globe.

There was no bird music now from the orchard; here and there a scared
oriole or robin flashed through the trees, winging its frightened way
out of pandemonium.

The cavalry horses of the escort hung their heads, as though dully
enduring the uproar; the horses of the field ambulances parked near the
orchard were being backed into the shafts; the band of an infantry
regiment, instruments flashing dully, marched up, halted, deposited
trombone, clarion and bass drum on the grass and were told off as
stretcher-bearers by a smart, Irish sergeant, who wore his cap over one
ear.

The shock of the cannonade was terrific; the Special Messenger,
buttoning her fresh linen, winced as window and door quivered under the
pounding uproar. Then, dressed at last, she opened the shaking blinds
and, seating herself by the window, laid her riding jacket across her
knees.

There were rents and rips in sleeve and body, but she was not going to
sew. On the contrary, she felt about with delicate, tentative fingers,
searching through the loosened lining until she found what she was
looking for, and, extracting it, laid it on her knees--a photograph, in
a thin gold oval, covered with glass.

The portrait was that of a young man--thin, quaintly amused, looking out
of the frame at her from behind his spectacles. The mustache appeared
to be slighter, the hair a trifle longer than the mustache and hair worn
by the signal officer, Captain West. Otherwise, it was the man. And hope
died in her breast without a flicker.

Sitting there by the shaking window, with the daguerreotype in her
clasped hands, she looked at the summer sky, now all stained and
polluted by smoke; the uproar of the guns seemed to be shaking her
reason, the tumult within her brain had become chaos, and she scarcely
knew what she did as, drawing on both gauntlets and fastening her soft
riding hat, she passed through the house to the porch, where the staff
officers were already climbing into their saddles. But the general,
catching sight of her face at the door, swung his horse and dismounted,
and came clanking back into the deserted hallway where she stood.

"What is it?" he asked, lowering his voice so she could hear him under
the din of the cannonade.

"The Moray matter.... I want two troopers detailed."

"Have you nailed him?"

"Yes--I--" She faltered, staring fascinated at the distorted face,
marred by a sabre to the hideousness of doom itself. "Yes, I think so.
I want two troopers--Burke and Campbell, of the escort, if you don't
mind----"

"You can have a regiment! Is it far?"

"No." She steadied her voice with an effort.

"Near _my_ headquarters?"

"Yes."

"Damnation!" he blazed out, and the oath seemed to shock her to
self-mastery.

"Don't ask me now," she said. "If it's Moray, I'll get him.... What are
those troops over there, General?" pointing through the doorway.

"The Excelsiors--Irish Brigade."

She nodded carelessly. "And where are the signal men? Where is your
signal officer stationed--Captain----"

"Do you mean West? He's over on that knob, talking to Wilcox with flags.
See him, up there against the sky?"

"Yes," she said.

The general's gimlet eyes seemed to bore through her. "Is that all?"

"All, thank you," she motioned with dry lips.

"Are you properly fixed? What do you carry--a revolver?"

She nodded in silence.

"All right. Your troopers will be waiting outside.... Get him, in one
way or another; do you understand?"

"Yes."

A few moments later the staff galloped off and the escort clattered
behind, minus two troopers, who sat on the edge of the veranda in their
blue-and-yellow shell jackets, carbines slung, poking at the grass with
the edges of their battered steel scabbards.

The Special Messenger came out presently, and the two troopers rose to
salute. All around her thundered the guns; sky and earth were trembling
as she led the way through an orchard heavy with green fruit. A volunteer
nurse was gathering the hard little apples for cooking; she turned, her
apron full, as the Special Messenger passed, and the two women, both
young, looked at one another through the sunshine--looked, and turned
away, each to her appointed destiny.

Smoke, drifting back from the batteries, became thicker beyond the
orchard. Not very far away the ruddy sparkle of exploding Confederate
shells lighted the obscurity. Farther beyond the flames of the Union
guns danced red through the cannon gloom.

Higher on the hill, however, the air became clearer; a man outlined in
the void was swinging signal flags against the sky.

"Wait here," said the Special Messenger to Troopers Burke and Campbell,
and they unslung carbines, and leaned quietly against their feeding
horses, watching her climb the crest.

The crest was bathed in early sunlight, an aërial island jutting up
above a smoky sea. From the terrible, veiled maelstrom roaring below,
battle thunder reverberated and the lightning of the guns flared
incessantly.

For a moment, poised, she looked down into the inferno, striving to
penetrate the hollow, then glanced out beyond, over fields and woods
where sunlight patched the world beyond the edges of the dark pall.

Behind her Captain West, field glasses leveled, seemed to be intent upon
his own business.

She sat down on the grassy acclivity. Below her, far below, Confederate
shells were constantly striking the base of the hill. A mile away black
squares checkered a slope; beyond the squares a wood was suddenly belted
with smoke, and behind her she heard the swinging signal flags begin to
whistle and snap in the hill wind. She had sat there a long while before
Captain West spoke to her, standing tall and thin beside her; some
half-serious, half-humorous pleasantry--nothing for her to answer. But
she looked up into his face, and he became silent, and after a while he
moved away.

A little while later the artillery duel subsided and finally died out
abruptly, leaving a comparative calm, broken only by slow and very
deliberate picket firing.

The signal men laid aside their soiled flags and began munching
hardtack; Captain West came over, bringing his own rations to offer her,
but she refused with a gesture, sitting there, chin propped in her
palms, elbows indenting her knees.

"Are you not hungry or thirsty?" he asked.

"No."

He had carelessly seated himself on the natural rocky parapet, spurred
boots dangling over space. For one wild instant she hoped he might slip
and fall headlong--and his blood be upon the hands of his Maker.

Sitting near one another they remained silent, restless-eyed, brooding
above the battle-scarred world. As he rose to go he spoke once or twice
to her with that haunting softness of voice which had begun to torture
her; but her replies were very brief; and he said nothing more.

At intervals during the afternoon orderlies came to the hill; one or two
general officers and their staffs arrived for brief consultations, and
departed at a sharp gallop down hill.

About three o'clock there came an unexpected roar of artillery from the
Union left; minute by minute the racket swelled as battery after battery
joined in the din.

Behind her the signal flags were fluttering wildly once more; a priest,
standing near her, turned nodding:

"Our boys will be going in before sundown," he said quietly.

"Are you Father Corby, chaplain of the Excelsiors?"

"Yes, madam."

He lifted his hat and went away knee-deep through the windy
hill-grasses; white butterflies whirled around him as he strode, head
on his breast; the swift hill swallows soared and skimmed along the
edges of the smoke as though inviting him. From her rocky height she saw
the priest enter the drifting clouds.

A man going to his consecrated duty. And she? Where lay her duty? And
why was she not about it?

"Captain West!" she called in a clear, hard voice.

Seated on his perch above the abyss, the officer lowered his field
glasses and turned his face. Then he rose and moved over to where she
was sitting. She stood up at once.

"Will you walk as far as those trees with me?" she asked. There was a
strained ring to her voice.

He wheeled, spoke briefly to a sergeant, then, with that subtle and
pleasant deference which characterized him, he turned and fell into step
beside her.

"Is there anything I can do?" he asked softly.

"No.... God help us both."

He halted. At a nod from her, two troopers standing beside their quietly
browsing horses, cocked carbines. The sharp, steel click of the locks
was perfectly audible through the din of the cannon.

[Illustration: "Then, like a flash his hand fell to his holster, and it
was empty."]

The signal officer looked at her; and her face was whiter than his.

"You are Warren Moray--I think," she said.

His eyes glimmered like a bayonet in sunlight; then the old half-gay,
half-defiant smile flickered over his face.

"Special Messenger," he said, "you come as a dark envoy for me. Now I
understand your beauty--Angel of Death."

"Are you Major Moray?" She could scarcely speak.

He smiled, glanced at the two troopers, and shrugged his shoulders.
Then, like a flash his hand fell to his holster, and it was empty; and
his pistol glimmered in her hand.

"For God's sake don't touch your sabre-hilt!" she said.... "Unclasp your
belt! Let it fall!"

"Can't you give me a chance with those cavalrymen?"

"I can't. You know it."

"Yes; I know."

There was a silence; the loosened belt fell to the grass, the sabre
clashing. He looked coolly at the troopers, at her, and then out across
the smoke.

"_This_ way?" he said, as though to himself. "I never thought it." His
voice was quiet and pleasant, with a slight touch of curiosity in it.

"How did you know?" he asked simply, turning to her again.

She stood leaning back against a tree, trying to keep her eyes fixed on
him through the swimming weakness invading mind and body.

"I suppose this ends it all," he added absently; and touched the sabre
lying in the grass with the tip of his spurred boot.

"Did you look for any other ending, Mr. Moray?"

"Yes--I did."

"How could you, coming into our ranks with a dead man's commission and
forged papers? How long did you think it could last? Were you mad?"

He looked at her wistfully, smiled, and shook his head.

"Not mad, unless you are. Your risks are greater than were mine."

She straightened up, stepped toward him, very pale.

"Will you come?" she asked. "I am sorry."

"I am sorry--for us both," he said gently. "Yes, I will come. Send those
troopers away."

"I cannot."

"Yes, you can. I give my word of honor."

She hesitated; a bright flush stained his face.

"I take your word," she murmured.

A moment later the troopers mounted and cantered off down the hill,
veering wide to skirt the head of a column of infantry marching in; and
when the Special Messenger started to return she found masses of men
threatening to separate her from her prisoner--sunburnt, sweating,
dirty-faced men, clutching their rifle-butts with red hands.

Their officers rode ahead, thrashing through the moist grass; a forest
of bayonets swayed in the sun; flag after flag passed, slanting above
the masses of blue.

She and her prisoner looked on; the flag of the 63d New York swept by;
the flags of the 69th and 88th followed. A moment later the columns
halted.

"Your Excelsiors," said Moray calmly.

"They're under fire already. Shall we move on?"

A soldier in the ranks, standing with ordered arms, fell straight
backward, heavily; a corporal near them doubled up with a grunt.

The Special Messenger heard bullets smacking on rocks; heard their dull
impact as they struck living bodies; saw them knock men flat. Meanwhile
the flags drooped above the halted ranks, their folds stirred lazily,
fell, and scarcely moved; the platoon fire rolled on unbroken somewhere
out in the smoke yonder.

"God send me a bullet," said Moray.... "Why do you stay here?"

"To--give you--that chance."

"You run it, too."

"I hope so. I am very--tired."

"I am sorry," he said, reddening.

She said fiercely: "I wish it were over.... Life is cruel.... I suppose
we must move on. Will you come, please?"

"Yes--my dark messenger," he said under his breath, and smiled.

A priest passed them in the smoke; her prisoner raised his hand to the
visor of his cap.

"Father Corby, their chaplain," she murmured.

"Attention! Attention!" a far voice cried, and the warning ran from rank
to rank, taken up in turn by officer after officer. Father Corby was
climbing to the summit of a mound close by; an order rang out, bugles
repeated it, and the blue ranks faced their chaplain.

Then the priest from his rocky pulpit raised his ringing voice in
explanation. He told the three regiments of the Irish Brigade--now
scarcely more than three battalions of two companies each--that every
soldier there could receive the benefit of absolution by making a
sincere act of contrition and resolving, on first opportunity, to
confess.

He told them that they were going to be sent into battle; he urged them
to do their duty; reminded them of the high and sacred nature of their
trust as soldiers of the Republic, and ended by warning them that the
Catholic Church refuses Christian burial to him who deserts his flag.

In the deep, battle-filled silence the priest raised up his hands; three
regiments sank to their knees as a single man, and the Special Messenger
and her prisoner knelt with them.

"_Dominus noster Jesus Christus vos absolvat, et ego, auctoritate
ipius, vos absolvo ab omvir vinculo_----"

The thunder of the guns drowned the priest's voice for a moment, then it
sounded again, firm and clear:

"_Absolve vos a peccatis_----"

The roar of battle blotted out the words; then again they rang out:

"_In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti!... Amen._"

The officers had remounted now, their horses plunging in the smoke; the
flags were moving forward; rivers of bayonets flowed out into the
maelstrom where the red lightning played incessantly. Then from their
front crashed out the first volley of the Irish Brigade.

"Forward! Forward!" shouted their officers. Men were falling everywhere;
a dying horse kicked a whole file into confusion. Suddenly a shell fell
in their midst, another, another, tearing fiery right of way.

The Special Messenger, on her knees in the smoke, looked up and around
as a priest bent above her.

"Child," he said, "what are you doing here?" And then his worn gaze fell
on the dead man who lay in the grass staring skyward through his broken
eyeglasses with pleasant, sightless eyes.

The Special Messenger, white to the lips, looked up: "We were on our
knees together, Father Corby. You had said the amen, and the bullet
struck him--here!... He had no chance for confession.... But you
said----"

Her voice failed.

The priest looked at her; she took the dead man's right hand in hers.

"He was a brave man, Father.... And you said--you said--about those who
fell fighting for--their _own_ land--absolution--Christian burial----"

She choked, set her teeth in her under lip and looked down at the dead.
The priest knelt, too.

"Is--is all well with him?" she whispered.

"Surely, child----"

"But--his was the--_other_ flag."

There was a silence.

"Father?"

"I know--I know.... The banner of Christ is broader.... You say he was
kneeling here beside you?"

"Here--so close that I touched him.... And then you said.... Christian
burial--absolution----"

"He was a spy?"

"What am I, Father?"

"Absolved, child--like this poor boy, here at your feet.... What is that
locket in your hand?"

"His picture.... I found it in his house when the cavalry were setting
fire to it.... Oh, I am tired of it all--deathly, deathly sick!... Look
at him lying here! Father, Father, is there no end to death?"

The priest rose wearily; through the back-drifting smoke the long battle
line of the Excelsiors wavered like phantoms in the mist. Six flags
flapped ghostlike above them, behind them men writhed in the trampled,
bloody grass; before them the sheeted volleys rushed outward into
darkness, where the dull battle lightning played.

A maimed, scorched, blackened thing in the grass near by was calling on
Christ; the priest went to him, turning once on his way to look back
where the Special Messenger knelt beside a dead man who lay smiling at
nothing through his shattered eyeglasses.



IV

ROMANCE


The Volunteer Nurse sighed and spread out her slender, iodine-stained
fingers on both knees, looking down at them reflectively.

"It is different now," she said; "sentiment dies under the scalpel. In
the filth and squalor of reality neither the belief in romance nor the
capacity for desiring it endure long.... Even pity becomes atrophied--or
at least a reflex habit; sympathy, sorrow, remain as mechanical
reactions, not spontaneous emotions.... You can understand that, dear?"

"Partly," said the Special Messenger, raising her dark eyes to her old
schoolmate.

"In the beginning," said the Nurse, dreamily, "the men in their
uniforms, the drums and horses and glitter, and the flags passing, and
youth--_youth_--not that you and I are yet old in years; do you know
what I mean?"

"I know," said the Special Messenger, smoothing out her riding gloves.
"Do you remember the cadets at Oxley? You loved one of them."

"Yes; you know how it was in the cities; and even afterward in
Washington--I mean the hospitals after Bull Run. Young bravery--the
Zouaves--the multicolored guard regiments--and a romance in every
death!" She laid one stained hand over the other, fingers still wide.
"But here in this blackened horror they call the 'seat of war'--this
festering bullpen, choked with dreary regiments, all alike, all in
filthy blue--here individuals vanish, men vanish. The schoolgirl dream
of man dies here forever. Only unwashed, naked duty remains; and its
inspiration, man--bloody, dirty, vermin-covered, terrible--sometimes;
and sometimes whimpering, terrified, flinching, base, bereft of all his
sex's glamour, all his mystery, shorn of authority, devoid of pride,
pitiable, screaming under the knife.--It is different now," said the
pretty Volunteer Nurse.--"The war kills more than human life."

The Special Messenger drew her buckskin gloves carefully through her
belt and buttoned the holster of her revolver.

"I have seen war, too," she said; "and the men who dealt death and the
men who received it. Their mystery remains--the glamour of a man remains
for me--because he is a man."

"I have heard them crying like children in the stretchers."

"So have I. That solves nothing."

But the Nurse went on:

"And in the wards they are sometimes something betwixt devils and
children. All the weakness and failings they attribute to women come out
in them--fear, timidity, inconsequence, greed, malice, gossip! And, as
for courage--I tell you, women bear pain better."

"Yes, I have learned that.... It is not difficult to beguile them
either; to lead them, to read them. That is part of my work. I do it. I
know they _are_ afraid in battle--the intelligent ones. Yet they fight.
I know they are really children--impulsive, passionate, selfish, often
cruel--but, after all, they are here fighting this war--here encamped
all around us throughout these hills and forests.... They have lost none
of their glamour for me. Their mystery remains."

The Volunteer Nurse looked up with a tired smile:

"You always were emotional, dear."

"I am still."

"You don't have to drain wounds and dry out sores and do the thousand
unspeakable offices that we do."

"Why do you do them?"

"I have to."

"You didn't have to enlist. Why did you?"

"Why do the men enlist?" asked the Nurse. "That's why you and I
did--whatever the motive may have been, God knows.... And it's killed
part of me.... _You_ don't cleanse ulcers."

"No; I am not fitted. I tried; and lost none of the romance in me. Only
it happens that I can do--what I am doing--better."

The Nurse looked at her a trifle awed.

"To think, dear, that you should turn out to be the celebrated Special
Messenger. You were timid in school."

"I am now.... You don't know how afraid a woman can be. Suppose in
school--suppose that for one moment we could have foreseen our
destiny--here together, you and I, as we are now."

The Nurse looked into the stained hollow of her right hand.

"I had the lines read once," she said drearily, "but nobody ever said
I'd be here, or that there'd be any war." And she continued to examine
her palm with a hurt expression in her blue eyes.

The Special Messenger laughed, and her lovely, pale face lighted up with
color.

"Don't you really think you are ever going to be capable of caring for a
man again?"

"No, I don't. I know now how they're fashioned, how they think--how--how
revolting they can be.... No, no! It's all gone--all the ideals, all the
dreams.... Good Heavens, how romantic--how senseless we were in school!"

"I am still," said the Special Messenger thoughtfully. "I like men....
A man--the right one--could easily make me love him. And I am afraid
there are more than one 'right one.' I have often been on the
sentimental border.... But they died, or went away--or I did.... The
trouble with me is, as you say, that I am emotional, and very, very
tender-hearted.... It is sometimes difficult to be loyal--to care for
duty--to care for the Union more than for a man. Not that there is any
danger of my proving untrue----"

"No," murmured the Nurse, "loyalty is your inheritance."

"Yes, we--" she named her family under her breath--"are traditionally
trustworthy. It is part of us--our race was always, will always
be.... But--to see a man near death--and to care for him a little--even
a rebel--and to know that one word might save him--only one little
disloyal word!"

"No man would save _you_ at that expense," said the Nurse disdainfully.
"I know men."

"Do you? I don't--in that way. There was once an officer--a
noncombatant. I could have loved him.... Once there was a Confederate
cavalryman. I struck him senseless with my revolver-butt--and I might
have--cared for him. He was very young.... I never can forget him. It is
hard, dear, the business I am engaged in.... But it has never spoiled my
interest in men--or my capacity for loving one of them. I am afraid I am
easily moved."

She rose and stood erect, to adjust her soft riding hat, her youthfully
slender figure in charming relief against the window.

"Won't you let me brew a little tea for you?" asked the Nurse. "Don't
leave me so soon."

"When do you go on duty?"

"In about ten minutes. It will be easier to-morrow, when we send our
sick North. Will you come in to-morrow?"

The Special Messenger shook her head dreamily.

"I don't know--I don't know.... Good-by."

"Are _you_ going on duty?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"Now."

The Nurse rose and put both arms around her.

"I am so afraid for you," she said; "and it has been so good to see
you.... I don't know whether we'll ever meet again----"

Her voice was obliterated in the noisy outburst of bugles sounding the
noon sick-call.

They went out together, where the Messenger's horse was tied under the
trees. Beyond, through the pines, glimmered the tents of an emergency
hospital. And now, in the open air not very far away, they could hear
picket firing.

"Do be careful," said the blue-eyed Nurse. "They say you do such
audacious things; and every day somebody says you have been taken, or
hanged, or shot. Dear, you are so young and so pretty----"

"So are you. Don't catch fever or smallpox or die from a scratch from a
poisoned knife.... Good-by once more."

They kissed each other. A hospital orderly, passing hurriedly, stopped
to hold her stirrup; she mounted, thanked the orderly, waved a smiling
adieu to her old schoolmate, and, swinging her powerful horse westward,
trotted off through the woods, passing the camp sentinels with a nod and
a low-spoken word.

Farther out in the woods she encountered the first line of pickets;
showed her credentials, then urged her horse forward at a gallop.

"Not that way!" shouted an officer, starting to run after her; "the
Johnnies are out there!"

She turned in her saddle and nodded reassuringly, then spurred on again,
expecting to jump the Union advance-guard every moment.

There seemed to be no firing anywhere in the vicinity; nothing to be
seen but dusky pine woods; and after she had advanced almost to the edge
of a little clearing, and not encountering the outer line of Union
pickets, she drew bridle and sat stock still in her saddle, searching in
every direction with alert eyes.

Nothing moved; the heated scent of the Southern pines hung heavy in the
forest; in the long, dry swale-grass of the clearing, yellow butterflies
were flying lazily; on a dead branch above her a huge woodpecker, with
pointed, silky cap, uttered a querulous cry from moment to moment.

She strained her dainty, close-set ears; no sound of man stirred in this
wilderness--only the lonely bird-cry from above; only the ceaseless
monotone of the pine crests stirred by some high breeze unfelt below.

A forest path, apparently leading west, attracted her attention; into
this she steered her horse and continued, even after her compass had
warned her that the path was now running directly south.

The tree-growth was younger here; thickets of laurel and holly grew in
the undergrowth, and, attempting a short cut out, she became entangled.
For a few minutes her horse, stung by the holly, thrashed and floundered
about in the maze of tough stems; and when at last she got him free, she
was on the edge of another clearing--a burned one, lying like a path of
black velvet in the sun. A cabin stood at the farther edge.

Three forest bridle paths ran west, east, and south from this blackened
clearing. She unbuttoned her waist, drew out a map, and, flattening it
on her pommel, bent above it in eager silence. And, as she sat studying
her map, she became aware of a tremor in the solid earth under her horse's
feet. It grew to a dull jarring vibration--nearer--nearer--nearer--and
she hastily backed her horse into the depths of the laurel, sprang to
the ground, and placed both gauntleted hands over her horse's nostrils.

A moment later the Confederate cavalry swept through the clearing at a
trot--a jaunty, gray column, riding two abreast, then falling into
single file as they entered the bridle path at a canter.

She watched them as they flashed by among the pines, sitting their
horses beautifully, the wind lifting the broad brims of their soft hats,
the sun a bar of gold across each sunburned face.

There were only a hundred of them--probably some of Ashby's old riders,
for they seemed strangely familiar--but it was not long before they had
passed on their gay course, and the last tremor in the forest soil--the
last distant rattle of sabre and carbine--died away in the forest
silence.

What were they doing here? She did not know. There seemed no logical
reason for the presence of Stuart's troopers.

For a while, awaiting their possible collision with the Union outposts,
she listened, expecting the far rattle of rifles. No sound came. They
must have sheered off east. So, very calmly she addressed herself to the
task in hand.

This must be the burned clearing; her map and the cabin corroborated
her belief. Then it was here that she was to meet this unknown man in
Confederate uniform and Union pay--a spy like herself--and give him
certain information and receive certain information in return.

Her instructions had been unusually rigid; she was to take every
precaution; use native disguise whether or not it might appear
necessary, carry no papers, and let any man she might encounter make the
advances until she was absolutely certain of him. For there was an ugly
rumor afloat that the man she expected had been caught and hanged, and
that a Confederate might attempt to impersonate him. So she looked very
carefully at her map, then out of the thicket at the burned clearing.
There was the wretched cabin named as rendezvous, the little garden
patch with standing corn and beans, and here and there a yellowing
squash.

_Why had the passing rebel cavalry left all that good food undisturbed?_

Fear, which within her was always latent, always too ready to influence
her by masquerading as caution, stirred now. For almost an hour she
stood, balancing her field glasses across her saddle, eyes focused on
the open cabin door. Nothing stirred there.

At last, with a slight shiver, she opened her saddle bags and drew out
the dress she meant to wear--a dingy, earth-colored thing of gingham.

Deep in the thicket she undressed, folded her fine linen and silken
stockings, laid them away in the saddle bags together with waist and
skirt, field glasses, gauntlets, and whip, and the map and papers, which
latter, while affording no information to the enemy, would certainly
serve to convict her.

Dressed now in the scanty, colorless clothing of a "poor white" of the
pine woods, limbs and body tanned with walnut, her slender feet rubbed
in dust and then thrust stockingless into shapeless shoes, she let down
the dark, lustrous mass of her hair, braided it, tied it with faded
ribbon, rubbed her hands in wood mold and crushed green leaves over them
till they seemed all stained and marred with toil. Then she gathered an
armful of splinter wood.

Now ready, she tethered her horse, leaving him bitted and saddled;
spread out his sack of feed, turned and looked once more at the cabin,
then walked noiselessly to the clearing's edge, carrying her aromatic
splinters.

Underfoot, as she crossed it, the charred grass crumbled to powder;
three wild doves flickered up into flight, making a soft clatter and
displaying the four white feathers. A quail called from the bean patch.

The heat was intense in the sun; perspiration streaked her features; her
tender feet burned; the cabin seemed a long way off, a wavering blot
through the dancing heat devils playing above the fire-scorched open.

Head bent, she moved on in the shiftless, hopeless fashion of the sort
of humanity she was representing, furtively taking her bearings and
making such sidelong observations as she dared. To know the shortest way
back to her horse might mean life to her. She understood that. Also she
fully realized that she might at that very instant be under hostile
observation. In her easily excited imagination, all around her the
forest seemed to conceal a hundred malevolent eyes. She shivered
slightly, wiped the perspiration from her brow with one small bare fist,
and plodded on, clutching her lightwood to her rounded breast.

And now at last she was nearing the open cabin door; and she must not
hesitate, must show no suspicion. So she went in, dragging her
clumsily-shod feet.

A very young man in the uniform of a Confederate cavalry officer was
seated inside before the empty fireplace of baked clay. He had a bad
scar on his temple. She looked at him, simulating dull surprise; he rose
and greeted her gracefully.

"Howdy," she murmured in response, still staring.

"Is this your house?" he asked.

"Suh?" blankly.

"Is this your house?"

"I reckon," she nodded. "How come you-all in my house?"

He replied with another question:

"What were you doing in the woods?"

"Lightwood," she answered briefly, stacking the fragrant splinters on
the table.

"Do you live here all alone?"

"Reckon I'm alone when I live heah," sullenly.

"What is your name?" He had a trick of coloring easily.

"What may be _yoh_ name, suh?" she retorted with a little flash of
Southern spirit, never entirely quenched even in such as she seemed to
be.

Genuine surprise brought the red back into his face and made it, worn as
it was, seem almost handsome. The curious idea came to her that she had
seen him before somewhere. At the same moment speech seemed to tremble
on his lips; he hesitated, looked at her with a new and sudden keenness,
and stood looking.

"I expected to meet somebody here," he said at length.

She did not seem to comprehend.

"I expected to meet a woman here."

"Who? Me?" incredulously.

He looked her over carefully; looked at her dusty bare ankles, at her
walnut-smeared face and throat. She seemed so small, so
round-shouldered--so different from what he had expected. They had said
that the woman he must find was pretty.

"Was yuh-all fixin' to meet up with _me_?" she repeated with a bold
laugh.

"I--don't know," he said. "By the Eternal, I don't know, ma'am. But I'm
going to find out in right smart time. Did you ever hear anybody speak
Latin?"

"Suh?" blankly; and the audacity faded.

"Latin," he repeated, a trifle discomfited. "For instance, '_sic itur_.'
Do you know what '_sic itur_' means?"

"Sick--what, suh?"

"'_Sic itur!_' Oh, Lord, she _is_ what she looks like!" he exclaimed in
frank despair. He walked to the door, wheeled suddenly, came back and
confronted her.

"Either, ma'am, you are the most consummate actress in this war drama,
or you don't know what I'm saying, and you think me crazy.... And now
I'll ask you once for all: _Is this the road_?"

The Special Messenger looked him full in the eyes; then, as by magic,
the loveliest of smiles transfigured the dull, blank features; her round
shoulders, pendulous arms, slouching pose, melted into superb symmetry,
quickening with grace and youth as she straightened up and faced him,
erect, supple, laughing, adorable.

"_Sic itur--ad Astra_," she said demurely, and offered him her hand.
"Continue," she added.

He neither stirred nor spoke; a deep flush mounted to the roots of his
short, curly hair. She smiled encouragement, thinking him young and
embarrassed, and a trifle chagrined.

"Continue the Latin formula," she nodded, laughing; "what follows, if
you please----"

"Good God!" he broke out hoarsely.

And suddenly she knew there was nothing to follow except death--his or
hers--realized she made an awful mistake--divined in one dreadful
instant the unsuspected counter-mine beneath her very feet--cried out as
she struck him full in the face with clenched fist, sprang back,
whipping the revolver from her ragged bodice, dark eyes ablaze.

"Now," she panted, "hands high--and turn your back! Quickly!"

He stood still, very pale, one sunburned hand covering the cheek which
she had struck. There was blood on it. He heard her breathless voice,
warning him to obey, but he only took his hand from his face, looked at
the blood on palm and finger, then turned his hopeless eyes on her.

"Too late," he said heavily. "But--I'd rather be you than I.... Look out
of that window, Messenger!"

"Put up your hands!"

"No."

"Will you hold up your hands!"

"No, Messenger.... And I--didn't--know it was _you_ when I came here.
It's--it's a dirty business--for an officer." He sank down on the wooden
chair, resting his head between both hands. A single drop of blood fell
brightly from his cut cheek.

The Special Messenger stole a swift, sidelong glance toward the window,
hesitated, and, always watching him, slid along the wall toward the
door, menacing him at every step with leveled revolver. Then, at the
door, she cast one rapid glance at the open field behind her and around.
A thrill of horror stiffened her. The entire circle of the burned
clearing was ringed with the gray pickets of rebel cavalry.

The distant men sat motionless on their horses, carbine on thigh. Here
and there a distant horse tossed his beautiful head, or perhaps some
hat-brim fluttered. There was no other movement, not one sound.

Crouching to pass the windows beneath the sills she crept, heedless of
her prisoner, to the rear door. That avenue to the near clustering woods
was closed, too; she saw the glitter of carbines above the laurel.

"Special Messenger?" She turned toward him, pale as a ghost. "I reckon
we've got you."

"Yes," she said.

There was another chair by the table--the only other one. She seated
herself, shaking all over, laid her revolver on the table, stared at the
weapon, pushed it from her with a nervous shudder, and, ashy of lip and
cheek, looked at the man she had struck.

"Will they--hang me?"

"I reckon, ma'am. They hung the other one--the man you took me for."

"Will there be a--trial?"

"Drumhead.... They've been after you a long, long while."

"Then--what are you waiting for?"

He was silent.

She found it hard to control the nervous tremor of her limbs and lips.
The dryness in her throat made speech difficult.

"Then--if there is no chance----"

He bent forward swiftly and snatched her revolver from the table as her
small hand fell heavily upon the spot where the weapon had rested.

"Would you do _that_?" he said in a low voice.

The desperate young eyes answered him. And, after a throbbing silence:
"Won't you let me?" she asked. "It is indecent to h-hang
a--woman--before--men----"

He did not answer.

"Please--please--" she whispered, "give it back to me--if you are
a--soldier.... You can go to the door and call them.... Nobody will
know.... You can turn your back.... It will only take a second!"

A big blue-bottle fly came blundering into the room and filled the
silence with its noise. Years ago the big blue flies sometimes came into
the quiet schoolroom; and how everybody giggled when the taller Miss
Poucher, bristling from her prunella shoes to her stiff side-curls,
charged indignantly upon the buzzing intruder.

Dry--eyed, dry--lipped, the Messenger straightened up, quivering, and
drew a quick, sharp breath; then her head fell forward, and, resting
inert upon the table, she buried her face in her arms. The most
dangerous spy in the Union service--the secret agent who had worked more
evil to the Confederacy than any single Union army corps--the coolest,
most resourceful, most trusted messenger on either side as long as the
struggle lasted--caught at last.

The man, young, Southern, and a gentleman's son, sat staring at her. He
had driven his finger-nails deep into his palms, bitten his underlip
till it was raw.

"Messenger!"

She made no response.

"Are you afraid?"

Her head, prone in her arms, motioned dull negation. It was a lie and he
knew it. He looked at the slender column of the neck--stained to a
delicate amber--at the nape; and he thought of the rope and the knot
under the left ear.

"Messenger," he said once more. "I did not know it was _you_ I was to
meet. Look at me, in God's name!"

She opened her eyes on him, then raised her head.

"Do you know me now?" he asked.

"No."

"Look!"

He touched the scar on his forehead; but there was no recognition in her
eyes.

"Look, I tell you!" he repeated, almost fiercely.

She said wearily: "I have seen so many men--so many men.... I can't
remember you."

"And I have seen many women, Messenger; but I have never forgotten
you--or what you did--or what you did----"

"I?"

"You.... And from that night I have lived only to find you again.
And--oh, God! To find you here! My Messenger! My little Messenger!"

"Who are you?" she whispered, leaning forward on the table, dark eyes
dilating with hope.

He sat heavily for a while, head bowed as though stunned to silence;
then slowly the white misery returned to his face and he looked up.

"So--after all--_you_ have forgotten. And my romance is dead."

She did not answer, intent now on every word, every shade of his
expression. And, as she looked, through the numbness of her desperation,
hope stirred again, stealthily.

"Are you a friend?" Her voice scarcely sounded at all.

"Friends die for each other," he said. "Do you expect that of me?"

The silence between them became terrible; and at last he broke it with a
bitter laugh:

"You once turned a boy's life to romance--riding through it--out of
it--leaving scars on his brow and heart--and on his lips the touch of
your own. And on his face your tears. Look at me once more!"

Her breath came quicker; far within her somewhere memory awoke, groping
blindly for light.

"Three days we followed you," he said. "On the Pennsylvania line we
cornered you; but you changed garb and shape and speech, almost under
our eyes--as a chameleon changes color, matching the leaf it hides
on.... I halted at that squatter's house--sure of you at last--and the
pretty squatter's daughter cooked for us while we hunted you in the
hills--and when I returned she gave me her bed to sleep on----"

Her hand caught at her throat and she half rose, staring at him.

"Her own bed to sleep on," he repeated. "And I had been three days
in the saddle; and I ate what she set before me, and slept on her
bed--fell asleep--only a tired boy, not a soldier any longer....
And awoke to meet your startled eyes--to meet the blow from your
revolver butt that made this scar--to fall back bewildered for a
moment--half-stunned--Messenger! Do you know me now?"

"Yes," she said.

They looked breathlessly at one another; suddenly a hot blush covered
her neck and face; and his eyes flashed triumph.

"You have _not_ forgotten!" he cried.

And there, on the very edge of death itself, the bright shame glowed and
glowed in her cheeks, and her distressed eyes fell before his.

"You kissed me," he said, looking at her.

"I--I thought I had--killed you--" she stammered.

"And you kissed me on the lips.... In that moment of peril you waited to
do that. Your tears fell on my face. I felt them. And I tell you that,
even had I been lying there dead instead of partly stunned, I would have
known what you did to me after you struck me down."

Her head sank lower; the color ran riot from throat to brow.

He spoke again, quietly, yet a strange undertone of exaltation thrilled
his voice and transfigured the thin, war-worn features she had
forgotten, so that, as she lifted her eyes to him again, the same boy
looked back at her from the mist of the long dead years.

"Messenger," he said, "I have never forgotten. And now it is too late to
forget your tears on my face--the touch of your lips on mine. I would
not if I could.... It was worth living for--dying for.... Once--I
hoped--some day--after this--all this trouble ended--my romance might
come--true----"

The boy choked, then:

"I came here under orders to take a woman spy whose password was the key
to a Latin phrase. But until you stood straight in your rags and smiled
at me, I did not know it was you--I did not know I was to take the
Special Messenger! Do you believe me?"

"Yes."

The boy colored painfully. Then a queer, pallid change came over his
face; he rose, bent over her where she rested heavily on the table:

"Little Messenger," he said, "I am in your debt for two blows and a
kiss."

She lifted a dazed face to meet his gaze; he trembled, leaned down, and
kissed her on the mouth.

Then in one bound he was at the door, signaling his troopers with drawn
sabre--as once, long ago, she had seen him signal them in the Northern
woods.

And, through the window, she saw the scattered cavalry forming column at
a gallop, obeying every sabre signal, trotting forward, wheeling fours
right--and then--and then! the gray column swung into the western forest
at a canter, and was gone!

The boy leaning in the doorway looked back at her over his shoulder and
sheathed his sabre. There was not a vestige of color left in his face.

"Go!" he said hoarsely.

"What?" she faltered.

"Go--go, in God's name! There's a door there! Can't you see it?"

                 *       *       *       *       *

She had been gone for a full hour when at last he turned again. A bit of
faded ribbon from her hair lay on the table. It was tied in a true
lover's knot.

He walked over, looked at it, drew it through his buttonhole and went
slowly back to the door again. For a long while he stood there,
vague-eyed, silent. It was nearly sunset when once more he drew his
sabre, examined it carefully, bent it over one knee, and snapped the
blade in two.

Then, with a last look at the sky, and standing very erect, he closed
the door, set his back firmly against it, drew his revolver, and looked
curiously into the muzzle.

A moment later the racket of the shot echoed through the deserted house.



V

RED FERRY


When Private Allen of Kay's Cavalry deserted with headquarters' dispatch
pouch, and headed straight for Dixie, there was a great deal of
consternation and excitement on the north bank of the river, and a
considerable amount of headlong riding. But on the tenth day he slipped
through the cordon, got into the woods, and was making for the river
when a patrol shot at him near Gopher Creek, but lost him in the
impenetrable cypress swamp beyond.

However, the pursuit was pushed forward to the very edge of the enemy's
country; Kay's troopers patrolled the north bank of the river and
watched every road and ford; east and west Ripley's and Haynes's
brigades formed impassable curtains.

Somewhere in this vast corral lay hidden a desperate, starving man; and
it was only a question of time before the hunted creature broke cover
for the water.

That a trooper had deserted with arms and equipment was generally known;
but that, in his nocturnal flight, he had also taken vitally important
papers was known at first only to Kay and later to the Special
Messenger, who was sent to him post-haste from corps headquarters when
the fugitive headed for the river.

Now, the south bank of the stream being in the enemy's territory, Kay
had not ventured to station patrols above the clay banks opposite, lest
rumor of invasion bring Stuart's riders to complicate a man chase and
the man escape in the confusion.

And he explained this to the Special Messenger at their first
conference.

"It ought to be guarded," insisted the Messenger tranquilly. "There are
three good fords and a ferry open to him."

"I hold the fords on this side," argued Kay; "the ferryboat lies in the
eel-grass on the south shore."

"Stuart's riders might cross if they heard of this trouble, sir!"

"And if they see Union troops on the south bank they'll cross, sure pop.
It won't do, Messenger. If that fellow attempts the fords we'll catch
him, sure; if he swims we may get him in the water. The Lord knows I
want him badly, but I dare not invite trouble by placing vedettes across
the stream.... There's a ferryman over there I'm worried about, too.
He'd probably come across if Allen hailed him from the woods.... And
Allen was thick with him. They used to fish together. Nobody knows what
they hatched out between them. It worries me, I can tell you--that
ferry."

The Messenger walked to the tent door and looked thoughtfully at the
woods around her. The colonel rose from his camp stool and followed her,
muttering:

"I might as well try to catch a weasel in a wall, or a red horse in the
mud; and how to go about it I don't know." With set jaws and an angry
spot glowing in his gaunt cheeks, he stared wickedly around him and then
at the Messenger. "_You_ do miracles, they say. Can't you do one now?"

"I don't know, sir. Who is this deserter?"

"Roy Allen--a sullen, unwilling dog--always malingering. He's spent half
the time in the guardhouse, half in the hospital, since he arrived with
the recruits. Somebody got an idea that he'd been hit by the sun, but
it's all bosh. He's a bad one--that's all. Can you help me out?"

The Messenger nodded.

"You say he's fond of fishing?"

"Crazy about it. He was often detailed to keep us in food when rations
ran low. Then the catfish made us sick, so I stopped his fishing. Then
he took French leave."

"I want two troopers this evening, Colonel. May I have them?" she asked
thoughtfully. "I'm going to keep house at Red Ferry for a while."

"All right, ma'am. Look out for him; he's a bad one."

But the Messenger shook her head, smiling.

At ten o'clock that night the Special Messenger, mounted astride and
followed by two cavalrymen with carbines, rode down through the river
mist to Bushy Ford.

Daintily her handsome horse set foot in the water, hesitated, bent his
long, velvety neck, sniffed, and finally drank; then, satisfied, stepped
quietly forward, hock-deep, in the swirling, yellow flood.

"Foller them stakes, Miss," cautioned the older trooper; "I sot 'em
m'self, I did."

"Thank you. Keep close to me, Connor. I've crossed here before it was
staked."

"Sho!" exclaimed Connor under his breath; "she do beat 'em all!"

Twice, having no light but the foggy stars, they missed the stakes and
her horse had to swim, but they managed to flounder safely back to the
ford each time; and after a little while her mount rose, straining
through the red mud of the shore, struggled, scrambled madly, and drew
out, dripping.

Up a slippery, crooked ascent they rode, out into a field of uncut corn
above, then, spurring, swung at a canter eastward along the river.

There was a dim light in the ferry house; a lubberly, fat man ran to the
open door as they drew bridle before it. When the fat man saw the blue
troopers he backed hastily away from the sill and the Messenger
dismounted and followed him into the house, heavy revolver swinging in
her gloved hand.

"What'n hell y'goin' to do to me?" he began to whimper; "I ain't done
nothin'"; but an excess of fright strangled him, and he continued to
back away from her until he landed flat against the opposite wall. She
followed and halted before him, cocking her weapon, with a terrible
frown. She said solemnly:

"I want you to answer me one or two questions, and if you lie to me it
will be the last time. Do you understand?"

He nodded and moistened his thick lips, gulping.

"Then you are the ferryman, Snuyder, are you not?"

He nodded, utterly incapable of speech. She went on, gloomily:

"You used to fish sometimes with a Yankee recruit named Allen--Roy
Allen?"

"Ye-s'm," he sniveled. "There's my fish-pole an' his'n layin' onto the
roof----"

"How did he hail you when he wanted you to come across to take him
fishing?"

"He jest come down to the shore an' hollered twicet----"

She bent closer, scanning his dilated eyes; speech died on his lips.

"How did he call to you at _night_?"

"He ain't never called me at night--so help me----"

"No; _but in case he ever wished to fish at night?_"

The man began to stammer and protest, but she covered him suddenly, and
her dark eyes struck fire.

"What signal?" she asked with a menacing ring in her voice. "Quick!"

"Cock-o'-the-pines!... It didn't mean nothin'," gasped the man; ... "It
was jest private--between fishin' friends----"

"Go on!"

"Yes'm.... If I heard a cock-o'-the-pines squeal I was to squeal back,
an' then he was to holler--jest friendly--'Hallo-oo! How's fishin'?'
That's all, ma'am----"

"And you were to cross?"

"Yes'm--jest friendly like. Him an' me was fond o' fishin'----"

"I see. Sit down and don't move. Nobody is going to hurt you."

She went to the door, leisurely uncocking her revolver and pushing it
through her belt.

"Oh, Connor," she called carelessly, "please mount my friend Mr. Snuyder
on my horse, take him across the ford, and detain him as my guest at
headquarters until I return. Wait a second; I'm going to keep my
saddlebags with me."

And a few minutes later, as the troopers rode away in the mist with
their prisoner, her gentle voice followed them:

"Don't be rough with him, Connor. Say to the colonel that there is no
harm in him at all, but keep him in sight until I return; and _don't_
let him go fishing!"

                 *       *       *       *       *

She began housekeeping at sunrise by taking a daring bath in the stream,
then, dressing, she made careful inventory of the contents of the house
and a cautious survey of the immediate environment.

The premises, so unexpectedly and unwillingly abandoned by its late
obese tenant, harbored, besides herself, only one living creature--a fat
kitten.

The ferry house stood above the dangerous south bank of the river in a
grove of oaks, surrounded for miles by open country.

A flight of rickety, wooden stairs pitched downward from the edge of the
grassy bank to a wharf at the water's edge--the mere skeleton of a wharf
now, outlined only by decaying stringpieces. But here the patched-up
punt was moored; and above it, nailed to a dead tree, the sign with its
huge lettering still remained:

                         RED FERRY
                        HOLLER TWICE

sufficiently distinct to be deciphered from the opposite shore. Sooner
or later the fugitive would have to come to the river. Probably the
cavalry would catch him at one of the fords, or some rifleman might
shoot him swimming. But, if he did not know the fords, and could not
swim, there was only one ferry for him; east, west, and north he had
long since been walled in. The chances were that some night a
cock-o'-the-pines would squeal from the woods across the river, and then
she knew what to do.

During those broiling days of waiting she had leisure enough. Seated
outside her shanty, in the shade of the trees, where she was able to
keep watch both ways--south for her own safety's sake, north for the
doomed man--she occupied herself with mending stockings and underwear,
raising her eyes at intervals to sweep the landscape.

Nobody came into that heated desolation; neither voice nor gunshot
echoed far or near. Day after day the foliage of the trees spread
motionless under cloudless skies; day after day the oily river slipped
between red mud banks in heated silence. In sky, on earth, nothing
stirred except, at intervals, some buzzard turning, high in the blinding
blue; below, all was deathly motionless, save when a clotted cake of red
clay let go, sliding greasily into the current. At dawn the sun struck
the half-stunned world insensible once more; no birds stirred even at
sunset; all the little creatures of the field seemed dead; her kitten
panted in its slumbers.

Every night the river fog shrouded the land, wetting the parched leaves;
dew drummed on the rotting porch like the steady patter of
picket-firing; the widow bird's distracted mourning filled the silence;
the kitten crept to its food, ate indifferently, then, settling on the
Messenger's knees, stared, round-eyed, at the dark. But always at dawn
the sun burned off the mist, rising in stupefying splendor; the oily
river glided on; not a leaf moved, not a creature. And the kitten slept
on the porch, heedless of inviting grass stems whisked for her and the
ball of silk rolled past her in temptation.

Half lying there, propped against a tree trunk in the heated shade,
cotton bodice open, sleeves rolled to the shoulders, the Special
Messenger mended her linen with languid fingers. Perspiration powdered
her silky skin from brow to breast, from finger to elbow, shimmering
like dew when she moved. Her dark hair fell, unbound; glossy tendrils of
it curled on her shoulders, framing a face in which nothing as yet had
extinguished the soft loveliness of youth.

At times she talked to the kitten under her breath; sometimes hummed an
old song. Memories kept her busy, too, at moments quenching the
brightness of her eyes, at moments twitching the edges of her vivid lips
till the dreamy smile transfigured her.

But always quietly alert, her eyes scanned land and river, the bank
opposite, the open fields behind her. Once, certain of a second's
safety, she relaxed with a sigh, stretching out full length on the
grass; and, under the edge of her cotton skirt, the metal of a revolver
glimmered for an instant, strapped in its holster below her right knee.

The evening of the fourth day was cooler; the kitten hoisted its tail
for the first time in their acquaintance, and betrayed a feeble interest
in the flight of a white dusk-moth that came hovering around the porch
vines.

"Pussy," said the Messenger, "there's bacon in that well pit; I am going
to make a fire and fry some."

The kitten mewed faintly.

"I thought you'd approve, dear. Cold food is bad in hot weather; and
we'll fry a little cornmeal, too. Shall we?"

The kitten on its small, uncertain legs followed her into one of the
only two rooms. The fat tenant of the hovel had left some lightwood and
kindling, and pots and pans necessary for such an existence as he led on
earth.

The Messenger twisted up her hair and pinned it; then culinary rites
began, the kitten breaking into a thin purring when an odor of bacon
filled the air.

"Poor little thing!" murmured the Messenger, going to the door for a
brief cautionary survey. And, coming back, she lifted the fry pan and
helped the kitten first.

They were still eating when the sun set and the sudden Southern darkness
fell over woods and fields and river. A splinter of lightwood flared
aromatically in an old tin candlestick; by its smoky, wavering radiance
she heated some well water, cleaned the tin plates, scoured pan and
kettle, and set them in their humble places again.

Then, cleansing her hands daintily, she dried them, and picked up her
sewing.

For her, night was the danger time; she could not avoid, by flight
across the river, the approach of any enemy from the south; and for an
enemy to discover her sitting there in darkness, with lightwood in the
house, was to invite suspicion. Yet her only hope, if surprised, was to
play her part as keeper of Red Ferry.

So she sat mending, sensitive ears on the alert, breathing quietly in
the refreshing coolness that at last had come after so many nights of
dreadful heat.

The kitten, too, enjoyed it, patting with tentative velvet paw the skein
of silk dangling near the floor.

But it was a very little kitten, and a very lonely one, and presently it
asked, plaintively, to be taken up. So the Messenger lifted the mite of
fluffy fur and installed it among the linen on the table, where it went
to sleep purring.

Outside the open door the dew drummed loudly; moths came in clouds,
hovering like snowflakes about the doorway; somewhere in the woods a
tiger owl yelped.

About midnight, lying on her sack of husks, close to the borderland of
sleep, far away in the darkness she heard a shot.

In one bound she was at the door, buttoning her waist, and listening.
And still listening, she lighted a pine splinter, raised her cotton
skirt, and adjusted the revolver, strapping the holster tighter above
and below her right knee.

The pulsing seconds passed; far above the northern river bank a light
sparkled through the haze, then swung aloft; and she drew paper and
pencil from her pocket, and wrote down what the torch was saying:

"Shot fired at Muddy Ford. Look out along the river."

And even as the red spark went out in the darkness a lonely birdcall
floated across the river--the strange squealing plaint of the great
cock-o'-the-pines. She answered, imitating it perfectly. Then a far
voice called:

"Hallo-o-o! How's fishin'?"

She picked up her pine candle, hurried out to the bank and crept
cautiously down the crazy, wooden stairs. Setting her torch in the iron
cage at the bow, she cast off the painter and, standing erect, swung the
long pole. Out into obscurity shot the punt, deeper and deeper plunged
the pole. She headed up river to allow for the current; the cool breeze
blew her hair and bathed her bared throat and arms deliciously; crimson
torchlight flickered crisscross on the smooth water ahead.

Every muscle in her body was in play now; the heavy pole slanted, rose
and plunged; the water came clip! slap! clap! slap! against the square
bows, dusting her with spray.

On, on, tossing and pitching as the boat hit the swift, deep, center
current; then the pole struck shallower depths, and after a while her
torch reddened foliage hanging over the northern river bank.

She drove her pole into the clay as the punt's bow grated; a Federal
cavalryman--a mere lad--muddy to the knees, brier-torn, and ghastly
pale, waded out through the shallows, revolver in hand, clambered
aboard, and struck the torch into the water.

"Take me over," he gasped. "Hurry, for God's sake! I tell you----"

"Was it you who called?"

"Yes. Snuyder sent you, didn't he? Don't stand there talking----"

With a nervous stroke she drove the punt far out into the darkness, then
fell into a measured, swinging motion, standing nearer the stern than
the bow. There was no sound now but the lapping of water and the man's
thick breathing; she strove to pierce the darkness between them, but she
could see only a lumpish shadow in the bow where he crouched.

"I reckon you're Roy Allen," she began, but he cut her short:

"Damn it! What's that to you?"

"Nothing. Only Snuyder's gone."

"When?"

"Some days ago, leaving me to ferry folk over.... He told me how to
answer you when you called like a cock-o'-the-pines."

"Did he?" The voice was subdued and sullen.

For a while he remained motionless, then, in the dull light of the
fog-shrouded stars she saw him face her, and caught the faint sparkle of
his weapon resting on his knees, covering her.

"It seems to me," he said fiercely, "that you are asking a good many
questions. Which side pays you?"

They were tossing now on the rapid little waves in the center of the
river; she had all she could do to keep the punt steady and drive it
toward the spot where, against the stars, the oaks lifted their
clustered crests.

At the foot of the wooden stairs she tied her boat, and offered to
relight the pine knot, but he would not have it and made her grope up
the ascent before him.

Over the top of the bank she led him, under the trees, to her door, he
close at her heels, revolver in hand. And there, on the sill, she faced
him.

"What do you want here?" she asked; "supper?"

"Go into the house and strike a light," he said, and followed her in.
And, as she turned from the blazing splinter, he caught her by the arm,
feeling roughly for a concealed weapon. Face aflame, she struggled out
of his clutch; and he was as red as she as they confronted one another,
breathing heavily.

"I'm sorry," he stammered. "I'm--h-half-crazed, I think.... If you're
what you look, God knows I meant you no insult.... But--but--their
damned spies are everywhere. I've stood too much--I've been in hell for
two weeks----"

He wiped his mouth with a trembling, raw hand, but his sunken eyes still
glared and the pallor once more blanched his sunken face.

"I'll not touch you again," he said hoarsely; "I'm not a beast--not
_that_ kind. But I'm starving. Is there anything--_anything_, I tell
you? I--I am not--very--strong."

She looked calmly into the ravaged, but still boyish features; saw him
swing, reeling a little, on his heels as he steadied himself with one
hand against the table.

"Sit down," she said in a low voice.

He sank into a chair, resting the hand which clutched the revolver on
the table.

Without a word she went about the business of the moment, rekindled the
ashes, filled the fry pan with mush and bacon. A little while afterwards
she set the smoking food before him, and seated herself at the opposite
side of the table.

The boy ate wolfishly with one hand; the other seemed to have grown fast
to the butt of his heavy weapon. She could have bent and shot him under
the table had she wished; she could have taken him with her bare hands.

But she only sat there, dark, sorrowful eyes on him, and in pity for his
certain doom her under lip trembled at intervals so she could scarcely
control it.

"Is there a horse to be had anywhere near here?" he asked, pausing to
swallow what his sunken jaws had been working on.

"No; the soldiers have taken everything."

"I will pay--anything if you'll let me have something to ride."

She shook her head.

He went on eating; a slight color had come back into his face.

"I'm sorry I was rough with you," he said, not looking at her.

"Why were you?"

He raised his head wearily.

"I've been hunted so long that I guess it's turned my brain. Except for
what you've been good enough to give me, I've had nothing inside me for
days, except green leaves and bark and muddy water.... I suppose I can't
see straight.... There's a woman they call the Special Messenger;--I
thought they might have started her after me.... That shot at the ford
seemed to craze me.... So I risked the ferry--seeing your light
across--and not knowing whether Snuyder was still here or whether they
had set a guard to catch me.... It was Red Ferry or starve; I'm too weak
to swim; I waited too long."

And as the food and hot tea warmed him, his vitality returned in a
maddened desire for speech after the weeks of terror and silence.

"I don't know who you are," he went on, "but I guess you're not fixed
for shooting at me, as every living thing seems to have done for the
last fortnight. Maybe you're in Yankee pay, maybe in Confederate; I
can't help it. I suppose you'll tell I've been here after I'm gone....
But they'll never get me now!" he bragged, like a truant schoolboy
recounting his misdemeanor to an awed companion.

"Who are you?" she asked very gently.

He looked at her defiantly.

"I'm Roy Allen," he said, "of Kay's Cavalry.... If you're fixing to tell
the Union people you might as well tell them who fooled 'em!"

"What have you done?"

She inquired so innocently that a hint of shame for his suspicion and
brutality toward her reddened his hollow cheeks.

"I'll tell you what I've done," he said. "I've taken to the woods,
headed for Dixie, with a shirtful of headquarter papers. That's what
I've done.... And perhaps you don't know what that means if they catch
me. It means hanging."

"Hanging!" she faltered.

"Yes--if they get me." His voice quivered, but he added boastingly: "No
fear of that! I'm too many for old Kay!"

"But--but why did you desert?"

"Why?" he repeated. Then his face turned red and he burst out violently:
"I'll tell you why. I lived in New York, but I thought the South was in
the right. Then they drafted me; and I tried to tell them it was an
outrage, but they gave me the choice between Fort Lafayette and Kay's
Cavalry.... And I took the Cavalry and waited.... I wouldn't have gone
as far as to fight against the flag--if they had let me alone.... I only
had my private opinion that the South was more in the right than we--the
North--was.... I'm old enough to have an opinion about niggers, and I'm
no coward either.... They drove me to this; I didn't want to kill people
who were more in the right than we were.... But they made me enlist--and
I couldn't stand it.... And now, if I've got to fight, I'll fight
bullies and brutes who----"

He ended with a gesture--an angry, foolish boast, shaking his weapon
toward the north. Then, hot, panting, sullenly sensible of his fatigue,
he laid the pistol on the table and glowered at the floor.

She could have taken him, unarmed, at any moment, now.

"Soldier," she said gently, "listen to me."

He looked up with heavy-lidded eyes.

"I am trying to help you to safety," she said.

A hot flush of mortification mantled his face:

"Thank you.... I ought to have known; I--I am ashamed of what I
said--what I did."

"You were only a little frightened; I am not angry."

"You understand, don't you?"

"A--little."

"You are Southern, then?" he said; and in spite of himself his heavy
lids began to droop again.

"No; Northern," she replied.

His eyes flew wide open at that, and he straightened up in his chair.

"Are you afraid of me, Soldier?"

"No," he said, ashamed again. "But--you're going to tell on me after I
am gone."

"No."

"Why not?" he demanded suspiciously.

She leaned both elbows on the table, and resting her chin on both palms,
smiled at him.

"Because," she said, "you are going to tell on yourself, Roy."

"What!" he blurted out in angry astonishment.

"You are going to tell on yourself.... You are going back to your
regiment.... It will be your own idea, too; it _has_ been your own idea
all the while--your secret desire every moment since you deserted----"

"Are you crazy!" he cried, aghast; "or do you think I am?"

"--ever since you deserted," she went on, dark eyes looking deep into
his, "it has been your desire to go back.... Fear held you; rage
hardened your heart; dread of death as your punishment; angry brooding
on what you believed was a terrible injustice done you--all these drove
you to panic.... Don't scowl at me: don't say what is on your lips to
say. You are only a tired, frightened boy--scarcely eighteen, are you?
And at eighteen no heart can really be a traitor."

"Traitor!" he repeated, losing all his angry color.

"It is a bad word, isn't it, Roy? Lying hidden and starving in the
forest through the black nights you had to fight that word away from
you--drive it out of your half-crazed senses--often--didn't you? Don't
you think I know, my boy, what a dreadful future you faced, lying there
through the stifling nights while they hunted you to hang you?

"I know, also, that what you did you did in a moment of insane rage. I
know that the moment it was done you would, in your secret soul, have
given the world to have undone it."

"No!" he cried. "I was right!"

She rose, walked to the door, and seated herself on the sill, looking up
at the stars.

For an hour she sat there, silent. Behind her, leaning heavily on the
table, he crouched, hot eyes wide, pulse heavy in throat and body. And
at last, without turning, she called to him--three times, very gently,
speaking his name; and at the third call he rose and came stumbling
toward her.

"Sit here."

He sank down beside her on the sill.

"Are you very tired?"

"Yes."

She placed one arm around him, drawing his hot head down on her
shoulder.

"How foolish you have been," she whispered. "But, of course, your mother
must not know it.... There is no reason to tell her--ever.... Because
you went quite mad for a little while--and nobody is blamed for mental
sickness.... How bright the stars are.... What a heavenly coolness after
that dreadful work.... How feverish you are! I think that your regiment
believes you roamed away while suffering from sunstroke.... Their
Colonel is a good friend of mine. Tell him you're sorry."

His head lay heavily on her shoulder; she laid a fresh hand over his
eyes.

"If the South is right, if we of the North are right, God knows better
than you or I, Roy.... And if you are so bewildered that you have no
deep conviction either way I think you may trust Him who set you among
Kay's Cavalry.... God never betrayed a human soul in honest doubt."

"It--it was the flag!--that was the hardest to get over--" he began, and
choked, smothering the dry sob against her breast.

"I know, dear.... The old flag means so much--it means all that our
fathers have been, all that we ought to be for the world's sake. Anger,
private resentment, bitterness under tyranny--these are little things;
for, after all, the flag still stands for what we ought to be--you and I
and those who misuse us, wittingly or otherwise.... Where are the
papers you took?"

He pressed his feverish face closer to her shoulder and fumbled at the
buttons of his jacket.

"Here?" she asked softly, aiding him with deft fingers; and in a moment
she had secured them.

For a while she held him there, cradling him; and his dry, burning face
seemed to scorch her shoulder.

Dawn was in the sky when she unclosed her eyes--a cool, gray dawn,
hinting of rain.

She looked down at the boy. His head lay across her lap; he slept,
motionless as the dead.

The sun rose, a pale spot on the gray horizon.

"Come," she said gently. And again, "Come; I want you to take me across
the ferry."

He rose and stood swaying on his feet, rubbing both eyes with briar-torn
fists.

"You will take me, won't you, Roy?"

"Where?"

"Back to your regiment."

"Yes--I'll take you."

For a few moments she was busy gathering up her spools and linen.

"You carry my saddlebags," she said, "and I'll take the kitten. Isn't it
cunning, Roy? Do look at the poor little thing! We can't leave it here."

Following, laden with her saddlebags, he stammered:

"Do--d-do you think they'll shoot me?"

"No," she said, smiling. "Be careful of the ferry steps; they are
dreadfully shaky."

She began the descent, clasping the kitten in both arms; the boy
followed. Seated in the punt, they stowed away the saddlebags and the
kitten, then he picked up the pole, looked at her, hesitated. She
waited.

"I guess the old man will have me shot.... But--I am going back," he
said, as though to himself.

She watched him; he looked up.

"You're right, ma'am. I must have been crazy. Everybody reads about
traitors--in school.... Nobody ever forgets their names.... I don't want
my name in school books."

"Like Benedict Arnold's," she said; and he quivered from head to foot.

"Oh, cricky!" he burst out, horrified; "how close I came to it! Have you
got those papers safe?"

"Yes, Roy."

"Then I'll go. I don't care what they do to me."

As he rose with the pole, far away in the woods across the river a
cavalry band began to play. Faint and clear the strains of the
Star-Spangled Banner rose from among the trees and floated over the
water; the boy stood spellbound, mouth open; then, as the far music died
away, he sank back into the boat, deathly pale.

"I--I ought to be hung!" he whispered.

The Messenger picked up the fallen pole, set it, and drove the punt out
into the river. Behind her, huddled in the stern, the prodigal wept,
uncomforted, head buried in his shaking arms; and the kitten, being
afraid, left the shelter of the thwarts and crept up on his knees,
sitting there and looking out at the unstable world of water in
round-eyed apprehension.

As the punt grated on the northern shore the Messenger drove her pole
into the mud, upright, and leaned on it.

"Roy," she said, looking back over her shoulder.

The boy rubbed his wet eyes with the sleeve of his jacket and got up.

"Are you afraid?"

"Not now."

"That is well.... You'll be punished.... Not severely.... For you came
back of your own accord--repentant.... Tell me, were you really afraid
that the Special Messenger might catch you?"

"Yes, I was," he said simply. "That's why I acted so rough with you....
I didn't know; they say any woman you see may be the Special
Messenger.... So I took no chances.... Who are you, anyway?"

"Only a friend of yours," she said, smiling. "Please pick up my kitten.
Thank you.... And some day, when you've been very, very good, I'll ask
Colonel Kay to let you take me fishing."

And she stepped lightly ashore; the boy followed, holding the kitten
under one arm and drying his grimy eyes on his sleeve.



VI

AN AIR-LINE


"As for me," continued Colonel Gay bitterly, "I'm driven almost frantic
by this conspiracy. Whenever a regiment arrives or leaves, whenever a
train stirs--yes, by Heaven, every time a locomotive toots or a mule
brays or a chicken has the pip--_somebody_ informs the Johnnies, and
every detail is known to them within a few hours!"

The Special Messenger seated herself on the edge of the camp table. "I
suppose they are very disagreeable to you about it at headquarters."

"Yes, they are--but how can I help it? Somehow or other, whatever is
done or said or even thought in this devilish supply camp is immediately
reported to Jeb Stuart; every movement of trains and troops leaks out;
he'll know to-night what I ate for breakfast this morning--I'll bet on
that. And, Messenger, let me tell you something. Joking aside, this
thing is worrying me sick. Can you help me?"

"I'll try," she said. "Headquarters sent me. They're very anxious up
there about the railroad."

"I can't help it!" cried the distracted officer. "On Thursday I had to
concentrate the line-patrol to drive Maxon's bushwhackers out of Laurel
Siding; and look what Stuart did to me. No sooner were we off than he
struck the unguarded section and tore up two miles of track! What am I
to do?"

The Special Messenger shook her pretty head in sympathy.

"There's a leak somewhere," insisted the angry officer; "it smells to
Heaven, but I can't locate it. Somewhere there's a direct, intelligent
and sinister underground communication between Osage Court House and Jeb
Stuart at Sandy River--or wherever he is. And what I want you to do is
to locate that leak and plug it."

"Of course," murmured the Special Messenger, gently tapping her riding
skirt with her whip.

"Because," continued the Colonel, "headquarters is stripping this depot
of troops. The Bucktails go to-day; Casson's New York brigade and
Darrel's cavalry left yesterday. What remains is a mighty small garrison
for a big supply depot--eleven hundred effectives, and they may take
some of them at any moment. You see the danger?"

"Yes, I do."

"I've protested; I've pointed out the risk we run; I sent my third
messenger to headquarters this afternoon. Of course, they don't intend
to leave this depot unguarded--probably they'll send the Vermont troops
from the North this week--but between the departure of Casson's column
and the theoretical arrival of reënforcements from Preston, we'd be in a
bad way if Stuart should raid us in force. And with this irritating and
constant leaking out of information I'm horribly afraid he'll strike us
as soon as the Bucktails entrain."

"Why don't you hold the Pennsylvania infantry until we can find out
where the trouble lies?" asked the girl, raising her dark eyes to the
nervous young Colonel.

"I haven't the authority; I've asked for it twice. Orders stand; the
Bucktails are going, and I'm worried to death." He shoved his empty pipe
into his mouth and bit viciously at the stem.

"Then," she said, "if I'm to do anything I'd better hurry, hadn't I?"

The young officer's face grew grimmer. "Certainly; but I've been a month
at it and I'm no wiser. Of course I know you are very celebrated, ma'am;
but, really, _do_ you think it likely that you can pick out this hidden
mischief-maker before he sends word to Stuart to-night of our deplorable
condition?"

"How long have I?"

"About a day."

"When do the Bucktails go?"

"At nine to-night."

"Who knows it?"

"Who doesn't? I can't move a regiment and its baggage in a day, can I?
I've given them twenty-four hours to break camp and entrain."

"Does the train master know which troops are going?"

"He has orders to hold three trains, steam up, night and day."

"I see," she murmured, strapping her soft riding hat more securely to
her hair with the elastic band. Her eyes had been wandering restlessly
around the tent as though searching for something which she could not
find.

"Have you a good map of the district?" she asked.

He went to his military chest, opened it, and produced a map. For a
while, both hands on the table, she leaned above the map studying the
environment.

"And Stuart? You say he's roaming around somewhere in touch with Sandy
River?" she asked, pointing with a pencil to that metropolis on the map.

"The Lord knows where _he_ is!" muttered the Colonel. "He may be a
hundred miles south now, and in my back yard to-morrow by breakfast
time. But when he's watching us he's usually near Sandy River."

"I see. And these"--drawing her pencil in a wavering line--"are your
outposts? I mean those pickets nearest Sandy River."

"They are. Those are rifle pits."

"A grand guard patrols this line?" she asked, rising to her feet.

"Yes; a company of cavalry and a field gun."

"Do you issue passes?"

"Not to the inhabitants."

"Have any people--civilians--asked for passes?"

"I had two applications; one from a Miss Carryl, who lives about a mile
beyond here on the Sandy River Road; another from an old farmer, John
Deal, who has a fruit and truck farm half a mile outside our lines. He
wanted to come in with his produce and I let him for a while. But that
leakage worried me, so I stopped him."

"And this Miss Carryl--did she want to go out?"

"She owns the Deal farm. Yes, she wanted to drive over every day; and I
let her until, as I say, I felt obliged to stop the whole business--not
permit anybody to go out or come in except our own troops."

"And still the leakage continues?"

"It certainly does," he said dryly.

The Special Messenger seated herself on one end of the military chest
and gazed absently at space. Her booted foot swung gently at intervals.

"So this Miss Carryl owns John Deal's farm," she mused aloud.

"They run it on shares, I believe."

"Oh! Was she angry when you shut out her tenant, John Deal, and shut her
inside the lines?"

"No; she seemed a little surprised--said it was inconvenient--wanted
permission to write him."

"You gave it?"

"Yes. I intimated it would save time if she left her letters to him
unsealed. She seemed quite willing."

"You read them all, of course, before delivering them?"

"Of course. There was nothing in them except instructions about plowing,
fruit picking, and packing, and various bucolic matters."

"Oh! Nothing to be read between the lines? No cipher? No invisible ink?
No tricks of any sort?"

"Not one. I had a detective here. He said there was absolutely no harm
in the letters, in Miss Carryl, or in John Deal. I have all the letters
if you care to look at them; I always keep the originals and allow only
copies to be sent to old man Deal."

"Let me see those letters," suggested the Messenger.

The Colonel, who had been sitting on the camp table, got off wearily,
rummaged in a dispatch box, and produced three letters, all unsealed.

Two were directed in a delicately flowing, feminine hand to John Deal,
Waycross Orchard. The Messenger unfolded the first and read:

    Dear Mr. Deal:

    Colonel Gay has thought it necessary, for military reasons, to
    revoke my pass; and I shall, therefore, be obliged hereafter to
    communicate with you by letter only.

    I wish, if there are negroes enough remaining in the quarters,
    that you would start immediately a seedling orchard of white
    Rare-ripe peaches from my orchard here. I have permission to
    send the pits to you by the military post-rider who passes my
    house. I will send you twenty every day as my peaches ripen.
    Please prepare for planting. I hope your rheumatism is better.

                                        Yours very truly,
                                                 Evelyn Carryl.

The Messenger's dark eyes lifted dreamily to the Colonel:

"You gave her permission to send the pits by your post-rider?"

"Yes," he said, smiling; "but I always look over them myself. You know
the wedding gown of the fairy princess was hidden in a grape seed."

"You are _quite_ sure about the pits?"

"Perfectly."

"Oh! When does the next batch of twenty go?"

"In about an hour. Miss Carryl puts them in a bag and gives them to my
messenger who brings them to me. Then I inspect every pit, tie up the
bag, seal it, and give it to my messenger. When he takes the mail to the
outposts he rides on for half a mile and leaves the sealed bag at Deal's
farm."

"Does your messenger know what is in the bag?"

"No, he doesn't."

She nodded, amused, saying carelessly:

"Of course you trust your post-rider?"

"Absolutely."

The Special Messenger swung her foot absently to and fro, and presently
opened another letter:

    Dear Mr. Deal:

    I am sending you twenty more peach pits for planting. What you
    write me about the bees is satisfactory. I have received the
    bees you sent. There is no reason why you should not make the
    exchange with Mr. Enderly, as it will benefit our hives as well
    as Mr. Enderly's to cross his Golden Indias with my Blacks.

The Messenger studied the letter thoughtfully; askance, the officer
watched the delicate play of expression on her absorbed young face,
perhaps a trifle incredulous that so distractingly pretty a woman could
be quite as intelligent as people believed.

She looked up at him quietly.

"So you gave Deal permission to send some bees to Miss Carryl and write
her a letter?"

"Once. I had the letter brought to me and I sent her a copy. Here it
is--the original."

He produced Deal's letter from the dispatch pouch, and the Messenger
read:

    Miss Evelyn Carryl,
        Osage Court House.

    Respected Miss:

    I send you the bees. I seen Mr. Enderly at Sandy River he says
    he is very wishful for to swap bees to cross the breed I says it
    shorely can be done if you say so I got the pits and am studyin'
    how to plant. The fruit is a rottin' can't the Yankees at Osage
    buy some truck nohow off'n me? So no more with respect from

                                                   John Deal
                                                         Supt.

"That seems rather harmless, doesn't it?" asked the Colonel wearily.

"I don't--know. I _think_ I'll take a look at John Deal's beehives."

"His _beehives_!"

"Yes."

"What for?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"I don't know--exactly. I was always fond of bees. They're so
useful"--she looked up artlessly--"so clever--quite wonderful, Colonel.
Have you ever read anything about bees--how they live and conduct
themselves?"

The Colonel eyed her narrowly; she laughed, sprang up from the military
chest, and handed back his letters.

"You have already formed your theory?" he inquired with a faintly
patronizing air, under which keen disappointment betrayed itself where
the grim, drooping mouth tightened.

"Yes, I have. There's a link missing, but--I may find that before night.
You can give me--_how_ long?"

"The Bucktails leave at nine. See here, Messenger! With all the civility
and respect due you, I----"

"You are bitterly disappointed in me," she finished coolly. "I don't
blame you, Colonel Gay."

He was abashed at that, but unconvinced.

"Why do you suspect this Miss Carryl and this man, Deal, when I've
showed you how impossible it is that they could send out information?"

"Somehow," she said quietly, "they _do_ send it--if they are the only
two people who have had passes, and who now are permitted to
correspond."

"But you saw the letters----"

"So did you, Colonel."

"I did!" he said emphatically; "and there's nothing dangerous in them.
As for the peach pits----"

"Oh, I'll take your word for them, too," she said, laughing. "When is
your post-rider due?"

"In a few minutes, now."

She began to pace backward and forward, the smile still lightly etched
on her lips. The officer watched her; puckers of disappointed anxiety
creased his forehead; he bit at his pipestem, and thought of the
Bucktails. Certainly Stuart would hear of their going; surely before the
northern reënforcements arrived the gray riders would come thundering
into Osage Court House. Fire, pillage, countless stores wasted, trains
destroyed, miles of railroads rendered useless. What, in Heaven's name,
could his superiors be thinking of, to run such risk with one of the
bases of supplies? Somewhere--_somewhere_, not far from corps
headquarters, sat incompetency enthroned--gross negligence--under a pair
of starred shoulder straps. And, musing bitterly, he thought he knew to
whom those shoulder straps belonged.

"The damn fool!" he muttered, biting at his pipe.

"Colonel," said the Messenger cheerily, "I am going to take the mail to
the outposts to-day."

"As you like," he said, without interest.

"I want, also, a pass for Miss Carryl."

"To pass our lines?"

"To pass _out_. She will not care to return."

"Certainly," he said with amiable curiosity.

He scratched off the order and she took it.

"Ask for anything you desire," he said, smiling.

"Then may I have this tent to myself for a little while? And would you
be kind enough to send for my saddlebags and my own horse."

The Colonel went to the tent flap, spoke to the trooper on guard. When
he came back he said that it was beginning to rain.

"Hard?" she asked, troubled.

"No; just a fine, warm drizzle. It won't last."

"All the better!" she cried, brightening; and it seemed to the young
officer as though the sun had gleamed for an instant on the tent wall.
But it was only the radiant charm of her, transfiguring, with its
youthful brilliancy, the dull light in the tent; and, presently, the
Colonel went away, leaving her very busy with her saddlebags.

There was a cavalry trooper's uniform in one bag; she undressed
hurriedly and put it on. Over this she threw a long, blue army cloak,
turned up the collar, and, twisting her hair tightly around her head,
pulled over it the gray, slouch campaign hat, with its crossed sabres of
gilt and its yellow braid.

It was a boyish-looking rider who mounted at the Colonel's tent and went
cantering away through the warm, misty rain, mail pouch and sabre
flopping.

There was no need for her to inquire the way. She knew Waycross, the
Carryl home, and John Deal's farm as well as she knew her own home in
Sandy River.

The drizzle had laid the dust and washed clean the roadside grass and
bushes; birds called expectantly from fence and thorny thicket, as the
sun whitened through the mist above; butterflies, clinging to dewy
sprays, opened their brilliant wings in anticipation; swallows and
martins were already soaring upward again; a clean, sweet, fragrant
vapor rose from earth and shrub.

Ahead of her, back from the road, at the end of its private avenue of
splendid oaks, an old house glimmered through the trees; and the Special
Messenger's eyes were fixed on it steadily as she rode.

Pillar, portico, and porch glistened white amid the leaves; Cherokee
roses covered the gallery lattice; an old negro was pretending to mow
the unkempt lawn with a sickle, but whenever the wet grass stuck to the
blade he sat down to examine the landscape and shake his aged head at
the futility of all things mundane. The clatter of the Special
Messenger's horse aroused him; at the same instant a graceful woman,
dressed in black, came to the edge of the porch and stood there as
though waiting.

The big gateway was open; under arched branches the Messenger galloped
down the long drive and drew bridle, touching the brim of her slouch
hat. And the Southern woman looked into the Messenger's eyes without
recognition.

Miss Carryl was fair, yellow-haired and blue-eyed--blonder for the dull
contrast of the mourning she wore--and her voice was as colorless as her
skin when she bade the trooper good afternoon.

All she could see of this cloaked cavalryman was two dark, youthful eyes
above the upturned collar of the cloak, shadowed, too, by the wet hat
brim, drooping under gilded crossed sabres.

"You are not the usual mail-carrier?" she asked languidly.

"No, ma'am"--in a nasal voice.

"Colonel Gay sent you?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Miss Carryl turned, lifted a small salt sack, and offered it to the
Messenger, who leaned wide from her saddle and took it in one hand.

"You are to take this bag to the Deal farm. Colonel Gay has told you?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Thank you. And there is no letter to-day. Will you have a few peaches
to eat on the way? I always give the mail-carrier some of my peaches to
eat."

Miss Carryl lifted a big, blue china bowl full of superb, white,
rare-ripe peaches, and, coming to the veranda's edge, motioned the
Messenger to open the saddlebags. Into it she poured a number of
peaches.

"They are perfectly ripe," she said; "I hope you will like them."

"Thank'y, ma'am."

"And, Soldier," she turned to add with careless grace, "if you would be
kind enough to drop the pits back into the saddlebag and give them to
Mr. Deal he would be glad of them for planting."

"Yes'm; I will----"

"How many peaches did I give you? Have you enough?"

"Plenty, ma'am; you gave me seven, ma'am."

"Seven? Take two more--I insist--that makes nine, I think. Good day; and
thank you."

But the Messenger did not hear; there was something far more interesting
to occupy her mind--a row of straw-thatched beehives under the fruit
trees at the eastern end of the house.

From moment to moment, homing or outgoing bees sped like bullets across
her line of vision; the hives were busy now that a gleam of pale
sunshine lay across the grass. One bee, leaving the hive, came humming
around the Cherokee roses. The Messenger saw the little insect alight
and begin to scramble about, plundering the pollen-powdered blossom. The
bee was a yellow one.

Suddenly the Messenger gathered bridle and touched her hat; and away she
spurred, putting her horse to a dead run.

Passing the inner lines, she halted to give and receive the password,
then tossed a bunch of letters to the corporal, and spurred forward.
Halted by the outer pickets, she exchanged amenities again, rid herself
of the remainder of the mail, and rode forward, loosening the revolver
in her holster. Then she ate her first peach.

It was delicious--a delicate, dripping, snow-white pulp, stained with
pink where the pit rested. There was nothing suspicious about that pit,
or any of the others when she broke the fragrant fruit in halves and
carefully investigated. Then she tore off the seal and opened the bag
and examined each of the twenty dry pits within. Not one had been
tampered with.

Her horse had been walking along the moist, fragrant road; a few moments
later she passed the last cavalry picket, and at the same moment she
caught sight of John Deal's farm.

The house was neat and white and small; orchards stretched in every
direction; a few beehives stood under the fruit trees near a well.

A big, good-humored looking man came out into the path as the Messenger
drew bridle, greeted the horse with a caress and its rider with a
pleasant salute.

"I'm very much obliged to you," he said, taking the sack of pits. "I
reckon we're bound to have more fine weather. What's this--some peach
pits from Miss Carryl?"

"Nine," nodded the Messenger.

"Nine! I'll have nine fine young trees this time three years, I reckon.
Thank you, suh. How's things over to the Co't House?"

"Troops arriving all the while," said the Messenger carelessly.

"Comin' _in_?"

"Lots."

"Sho! I heard they was sendin' 'em East."

"Oh, some. We've got to have elbow-room. Can't pack two army corps into
Osage Court House."

"Two a'my co'ps, suh?"

"More or less."

John Deal balanced the sack in the palm of one work-worn hand and looked
hard at the Messenger. He could see only her eyes.

[Illustration: "'Turn around,' said the Special Messenger."]

"Reckon you ain't the same trooper as come yesterday."

"No."

"What might be yoh regiment?"

The Messenger was looking hard at the beehives. The door of one of the
hives, a new one, was shut.

"What regiment did you say, suh?" repeated Deal, showing his teeth in a
friendly grin; and suddenly froze rigid as he found himself inspecting
the round, smoky muzzle of a six-shooter.

"Turn around," said the Special Messenger. Her voice was even and
passionless.

John Deal turned.

"Cross your hands behind your back. Quickly, please! Now back up to this
horse. Closer!"

There was a glimmer, a click; and the man stood handcuffed.

"Sit down on the grass with your back against that tree. Make yourself
comfortable."

Deal squatted awkwardly, settled, and turned a pallid face to the
Messenger.

"What'n hell's this mean?" he demanded.

"Don't move and don't shout," said the Messenger. "If you do I'll have
to gag you. I'm only going over there to take a look at your bees."

The pallor on the man's face was dreadful, but he continued to stare at
the Messenger coolly enough.

"It's a damned outrage!" he began thickly. "I had a pass from your
Colonel----"

"If you don't keep quiet I'll have to tie up your face," observed the
Messenger, dismounting and flinging aside her cloak.

Then, as she walked toward the little row of beehives, carrying only her
riding whip, the farmer's eyes grew round and a dull flush empurpled his
face and neck.

"By God!" he gasped; "it's _her_!" and said not another word.

She advanced cautiously toward the hives; very carefully, with the butt
of her whip, she closed the sliding door over every exit, then seated
herself in the grass within arm's length of the hives and, crossing her
spurred boots, leaned forward, expectant, motionless.

A bee arrived, plunder-laden, dropped on the sill and began to walk
toward the closed entrance of his hive. Finding it blocked, the insect
buzzed angrily. Another bee whizzed by her and lit on the sill of
another hive; another came, another, and another.

Very gingerly, as each insect alighted, she raised the sliding door and
let it enter. Deal watched her, fascinated.

An hour passed; she had admitted hundreds of bees, always closing the
door behind each new arrival. Then something darted through the range of
her vision and alighted, buzzing awkwardly on the sill of a hive--an
ordinary, yellow-brown honey bee, yet differing from the others in that
its thighs seemed to be snow-white.

Quick as a flash the Messenger leaned forward and caught the insect in
her gloved fingers, holding it by the wings flat over the back.

Its abdomen dilated and twisted, and the tiny sting was thrust out,
vainly searching the enemy; but the Messenger, drawing a pin from her
jacket, deftly released the two white encumbrances from the insect's
thighs--two thin cylinders of finest tissue paper, and flung the angry
insect high into the air. It circled, returned to the hive, and she let
it in.

There was a groan from the manacled man under the trees; she gave him a
rapid glance, shook her head in warning, and, leaning forward, deftly
lifted a second white-thighed bee from the hive over which it was
scrambling in a bewildered sort of way.

A third, fourth, and fifth bee arrived in quick succession; she robbed
them all of their tissue-paper cylinders. Then for a while no more
arrived, and she wondered whether her guess had been correct, that the
nine peaches and wet pits meant to John Deal that nine bees were to be
expected--eager home-comers, which he had sent to his mistress and
which, as she required their services, she released, certain that they
would find their old hives on John Deal's farm and carry to him the
messages she sent.

And they came at last--the sixth, seventh--then after a long interval
the eighth--and, finally, the ninth bee whizzed up to the hive and fell,
scrambling, its movements embarrassed by the tiny, tissue cylinders.

The Messenger waited another hour; there were no more messengers among
the bees that arrived.

Then she opened every hive door, rose, walked over to the closed hive
that stood apart and opened the door of that.

A _black_ honeybee crawled out, rose into the air, and started due
south; another followed, then three, then a dozen; and then the hive
vomited a swarm of _black_ bees which sped southward.

Sandy River lay due south; also, the home-hive from which they had been
taken and confined as prisoners; also, a certain famous officer lingered
at Sandy River--one, General J. E. B. Stuart, very much interested in
the beehives belonging to a friend of his, a Mr. Enderly.

When she had relieved each messenger-bee of its tissue-paper dispatch,
she had taken the precaution to number each tiny cylinder, in order of
its arrival, from one to nine. Now she counted them, looked over each
message, laid them carefully away between the leaves of a pocket
notebook, slipped it into the breast of her jacket, and, rising, walked
over to John Deal.

"Here is the key to those handcuffs," she said, hanging it around his
neck by the bit of cord on which it was dangling. "Somebody at Sandy
River will unlock them for you. But it would be better, Mr. Deal, if you
remained outside our lines until this war is ended. I don't blame
you--I'm sorry for you--and for your mistress."

She set toe to stirrup, mounted easily, fastened her cloak around her.

"I'm really sorry," she said. "I hope nobody will injure your pretty
farm. Good-by."

Miss Carryl was standing at the end of the beautiful, oak-shaded avenue
when the Messenger, arriving at full speed, drew bridle and whirled her
horse.

Looking straight into the pretty Southern woman's eyes, she said
gravely:

"Miss Carryl, your bees have double stings. I am very sorry for
you--very, very sorry. I hope your property will he respected while you
are at Sandy River."

"What do you mean?" asked Miss Carryl. Over her pale features a painful
tremor played.

"You know what I mean. And I am afraid you had better go at once. John
Deal is already on his way."

There was a long silence. Miss Carryl found her voice at length.

"Thank you," she said without a tremor. "Will I have any trouble in
passing the Yankee lines?"

"Here is your passport. I had prepared it."

As the Messenger bent over from the saddle to deliver the pass, somehow
her hat, with its crossed gilt sabres, fell off. She caught it in one
hand; a bright blush mantled throat and face.

The Southern woman looked up at the girl in the saddle, so dramatically
revealed for what she was under the superb accusation of her hair.

"_You?_"

"Yes--God help us both!"

The silence was terrible.

"It scarcely surprises me," murmured Miss Carryl with a steady smile. "I
saw only your eyes before, but they seemed too beautiful for a boy's."

Then she bent her delicately-molded head and studied the passport. The
Messenger, still blushing, drew her hat firmly over her forehead and
fastened a loosened braid. Presently she took up her bridle.

"I will ask Colonel Gay's protection for Waycross House," she said in a
low voice. "I am so dreadfully sorry that this has happened."

"You need not be; I have only tried to do for my people what you are
doing for yours--but I should be glad of a guard for Waycross. _His_
grave is in the orchard there." And with a quiet inclination of the head
she turned away into the oak-bordered avenue, walking slowly toward the
house which, in a few moments, she must leave forever.

In the late sunshine her bees flashed by, seeking the fragrant
home-hives; long, ruddy bars of sunlight lay across grass and tree
trunk; on the lawn the old servant still chopped at the unkempt grass,
and the music of his sickle sounded pleasantly under the trees.

On these things the fair-haired Southern woman looked, and if her eye
dimmed and her pale lip quivered there was nobody to see. And after a
little while she went into the house, slowly, head held high, black
skirt lifted, just clearing the threshold of her ancestors.

Then the Special Messenger, head hanging, wheeled her horse and rode
slowly back to Osage Court House.

She passed the Colonel, who was dismounting just outside his tent, and
saluted him without enthusiasm:

"The leak is stopped, sir. Miss Carryl is going to Sandy River; John
Deal is on his way. They won't come back--and, Colonel, won't you give
special orders that her house is not to be disturbed? She is an old
school friend."

The Colonel stared at her incredulously.

"I'm afraid you still have your doubts about that leak, sir."

"Yes, I have."

She dismounted wearily; an orderly took her horse, and without a word
she and the Colonel entered the tent.

"They used bees for messengers," she said; "that was the leak."

"Bees?"

"Honey bees, Colonel."

For a whole minute he was silent, then burst out:

"Good God! _Bees!_ And if such a--an extraordinary performance were
possible how did _you_ guess it?"

"Oh," she said patiently, "I used them that way when I was a little
girl. Bees, like pigeons, go back to their homes. Look, sir! Here, in
order, are the dispatches, each traced in cipher on a tiny roll of
tissue. They were tied to the bees' thighs."

[Transcriber's Note: in the following cyphers, subscripted numerals
and special symbols are contained in curly brackets, like this: {3}]

And she spread them out in order under his amazed eyes; and this is what
he saw when she pieced them together for him:

    EIO{2}W{2} x I{8}W{3} {triangle} NI{7}W{3} x
      OII{6}I{5}W{3} x ENI{7}I{7}I{4}I{8}I{5}O{2}
    N x I{7}IE x I{4}O{2}I{2} x
    N x HI{5} x IO{2}E x
    N x O x E x WNW{3} x
    W x I{8}E{3}XHN {crescent} x
    L x I{3} O{2}XW{3}I{5}W{3}NW{2} x

    I{4}I{2} x I{8}W{3}I{7}I{4}LI x NW{3}x
    I{5}O{2}HI x O{2}I{4}EI{3}W{3} x
    HNI{7}I{7} {circle+} W{2}

"That's all very well," he said, "but how about this hieroglyphic? Do
you think anybody on earth is capable of reading such a thing?"

"Why not?"

"Can _you_?"

"All such ciphers are solved by the same method.... Yes, Colonel, I can
read it very easily."

"Well, would you mind doing so?"

"Not in the slightest, sir. The key is extremely simple. I will show
you." And she picked up pencil and paper and wrote:

    One
    Two
    Three
    Four
    Five
    Six
    Seven
    Eight
    Nine
    Ten
    Eleven
    Twelve
    Thirteen
    Fourteen
    Fifteen
    Sixteen
    Seventeen
    Eighteen
    Nineteen
    Twenty

"Now," she said, "taking the second letter in each word, we can parallel
that column thus:

    N equals the letter A
    W equals the letter B
    H equals the letter C
    O equals the letter D
    I equals the letter E

"Then, in the word _six_ we have the letter _I_ again as the second
letter, so we call it I{2}. And, continuing, we have:

    I{2} equals the letter F
    E equals the letter G
    I{3} equals the letter H
    I{4} equals the letter I
    E{2} equals the letter J
    L equals the letter K
    W{2} equals the letter L
    H{2} equals the letter M
    O{2} equals the letter N
    I{5} equals the letter O
    I{6} equals the letter P
    E{3} equals the letter Q
    I{7} equals the letter R
    I{8} equals the letter S
    W{3} equals the letter T

"Now, using these letters for the symbols in the cipher:

    EIO{2}W{2} x I{8}W{3} {triangle} NI{7}W{3} x
      OII{6}I{5}W{3} x ENI{7}I{7}I{4}I{8}I{5}O{2}
    N x I{7}IE x I{4}O{2}I{2} x
    N x HI{5} x IO{2}E x
    N x O x E x WNW{3} x
    W x I{8}E{3}XHN {crescent} x
    L x I{3} O{2}XW{3}I{5}W{3}NW{2} x

    I{4}I{2} x I{8}W{3}I{7}I{4}LI x NW{3}x
    I{5}O{2}HI x O{2}I{4}EI{3}W{3} x
    HNI{7}I{7} {circle+} W{2}

"We translate it freely thus, and I'll underline only the words in the
cipher:

    Gen'l Stuart (Sandy River?)

    (The present) Depot Garrison (of Osage Court House is)
    One Reg(iment) (of) Inf(antry)
    One Co(mpany of) Eng(ineers)
    One Four G(un) Bat(tery)
    Two Sq(uadrons) (of) Cav(alry)
    Eleven Hun(dred men) Total
    If (you) strike (strike) at once (and at) night!

    (Signed) Carryl.

"Do you see, Colonel, how very simple it is, after all?"

The Colonel, red and astounded, hung over the paper, laboriously
verifying the cipher and checking off each symbol with its alphabetical
equivalent.

"What's that mark?" he demanded; "this symbol----"

"It stands for the letter U, sir."

"How do you know?"

The Messenger, seated sideways on the camp table, one small foot
swinging, looked down and bit her lip.

"Must I tell you?"

"As you please. And I'll say now that your solving this intricate and
devilish cipher is, to me, a more utterly amazing performance than the
rebel use of bees as messengers."

She shook her head slowly.

"It need not amaze you.... I was born in Sandy River.... And in happier
times--when my parents were living--I spent the school vacations
there.... We had always kept bees.... There was--in those days--a boy.
We were very young and--romantic. We exchanged vows--and bees--and
messages in cipher.... I knew this cipher as soon as I saw it. I
invented it--long ago--for him and me."

"W-well," stammered the bewildered Colonel, "I don't see how----"

"I do, sir. Our girl and boy romance was a summer dream. One day he
dreamed truer. So did the beautiful Miss Carryl.... And the pretty game
I invented for him he taught in turn to his fiancée.... Well, he died in
The Valley.... And I have just given his fiancée her passport. It would
be very kind of you to station a guard at the Carryl place for its
protection. Would you mind giving the order, sir?... _He_ is buried
there."

The Colonel, hands clasped behind him, walked to the tent door.

"Yes," he said, "I'll give the order."

A few moments later the drums of the Bucktails began beating the
assembly.



VII

THE PASS


Her map, which at headquarters was supposed to be reliable, had grossly
misled her; the road bore east instead of north, dwindling, as she
advanced, to a rocky path among the foothills. She had taken the wrong
turn at the forks; there was nothing to direct her any farther--no
landmarks except the general trend of the watercourse, and the dull
cinders of sunset fading to ashes in the west.

It was impossible now to turn back; Carrick's flying column must be
very close on her heels by this time--somewhere yonder in the dusk,
paralleling her own course, with only a dark curtain of forest
intervening.

So all that evening, and far into the starlit night, she struggled
doggedly forward, leading her lamed horse over the mountain, dragging
him through laurel thickets, tangles of azalea and rhododendron,
thrashing across the swift mountain streams that tumbled out of starry,
pine-clad heights, foaming athwart her trail with the rushing sound of
forest winds.

For a while the clear radiance of the stars lighted the looming
mountains; but when wastes of naked rock gave place to ragged woods,
lakes and pits of darkness spread suddenly before her; every gully,
every ravine brimmed level with treacherous shadows, masking the sheer
fall of rock plunging downward into fathomless depths.

Again and again, as she skirted the unseen edges of destruction, chill
winds from unsuspected deeps halted her; she dared not light the
lantern, dared not halt, dared not even hesitate. And so, fighting down
terror, she toiled on, dragging her disabled horse, until, just before
dawn, the exhausted creature refused to stir another foot.

Desperate, breathless, trembling on the verge of exhaustion, with the
last remnants of nervous strength she stripped saddle and bridle from
the animal; then her nerves gave way and she buried her face against her
horse's reeking, heaving shoulders.

"I've got to go on, dear," she whispered; "I'll try to come back to
you.... See what a pretty stream this is," she added, half hysterically,
"and such lots of fresh, sweet grass.... Oh, my little horse--my little
horse! I'm so tired--so tired!"

The horse turned his gentle head, mumbling her shoulder with soft, dusty
lips; she stifled a sob, lifted saddle, saddlebags, and bridle and
carried them up the rocky bank of the stream to a little hollow. Here
she dropped them, unstrapped her revolver and placed it with them, then
drew from the saddlebags a homespun gown, sunbonnet, and a pair of
coarse shoes, and laid them out on the moss.

Fatigue rendered her limbs unsteady; her fingers twitched as she fumbled
with button and buckle, but at last spurred boots, stockings, jacket,
and dusty riding skirt fell from her; undergarments dropped in a circle
around her bare feet; she stepped out of them, paused to twist up her
dark hair tightly, then, crossing the moss to the stream's edge, picked
her way out among the boulders to the brimming rim of a pool.

In the exquisite shock of the water the blood whipped her skin; fatigue
vanished through the crystal magic; shoulder-deep she waded,
crimson-cheeked, then let herself drift, afloat, stretching out in
ecstasy until every aching muscle thrilled with the delicious reaction.

Overhead, tree swallows darted through a sky of pink and saffron,
pulsating with the promise of the sun; the tinted peak of a mountain,
jaggedly mirrored in the unquiet pool, suddenly glowed crimson, and the
reflections ran crisscross through the rocking water, lacing it with
fiery needles.

She looked like some delicate dawn-sprite as she waded ashore--a
slender, unreal shape in the rosy glow, while behind her, from the dim
ravine, ghosts of the mountain mist floated, rising like a company of
slim, white angels drifting to the sky.

All around her now the sweet, bewildered murmur of purple martins grew
into sustained melody; thrush and mocking bird, thrasher and cardinal,
sang from every leafy slope; and through the rushing music of bird and
pouring waterfall the fairy drumming of the cock-o'-the-pines rang out
in endless, elfin reveille.

While she was managing to dry herself and dress, her horse limped off
into the grassy swale below to drink in the stream and feed among the
tender grasses.

Before she drew on the homespun gown she tucked her linen map into an
inner skirt pocket, flat against her right thigh; then, fastening on the
shabby skirt, she rolled up her riding habit, laid it with lantern,
revolver, saddle, bridle, boots, and bags, in the hollow and covered all
over with heaps of fragrant dead leaves and branches. It was the best
she could do, and the time was short.

Her horse raised his wise, gentle head, and looked across the stream at
her as she hastened past, then limped stiffly toward her.

"Oh, I can't stand it if you hobble after me!" she wailed under her
breath. "Dearest--dearest--I will surely come back to you.
Good-by--good-by!"

On the crest of the ridge she cast one swift, tearful glance behind.
The horse, evidently feeling better, was rolling in the grass, all four
hoofs waving at the sky. And she laughed through the tears, and drew
from her pockets a morsel of dry bread which she had saved from the
saddlebags. This she nibbled as she walked, taking her bearings from the
sun and the sweep of the southern mountain slopes; and listening, always
listening, for the jingle and clank of the Confederate flying battery
that was surely following along somewhere on that parallel road which
she had missed, hidden from her view only by a curtain of forest, the
width of which she had no time to investigate. Nor did she know for
certain that she had outstripped the Confederate column in the race for
the pass--a desperate race, although the men of that flying column,
which was hastening to turn the pass into a pitfall for the North, had
not the faintest suspicion that the famous Special Messenger was racing
with them to forestall them, or even that their secret was no longer a
secret.

In hot haste from the south hills she had come to warn Benton's division
of the ambuscade preparing for it, riding by highway and byway, her
heart in her mouth, taking every perilous chance. And now, at the last
moment, here in the West Virginian Mountains, almost within sight of the
pass itself, disaster threatened--the human machine was giving out.

There were just two chances that Benton might yet be saved--that his
leisurely advance had, by some miracle, already occupied the pass, or,
if not, that she could get through and meet Benton in time to stop him.

She had been told that there was a cabin at the pass, and that the
mountaineer who lived there was a Union man.

Thinking of these things as she crossed the ridge, she came suddenly
into full view of the pass. It lay there just below her; there could be
no mistake. A stony road wound along the stream, flanked by forest-clad
heights; she recognized the timber bridge over the ravine, which had
been described to her, the corduroy way across the swamp, the single,
squat cabin crowning a half-cleared hillock. She realized at a glance
the awful trap that this silent, deadly place could be turned into; for
one rushing moment her widening eyes could almost see blue masses of men
in disorder, crushed into that horrible defile; her ears seemed to ring
with their death cries, the rippling roar of rifle fire. Then, with a
sharp, indrawn breath, she hastened forward, taking the descent at a
run. And at the same moment three gray-jacketed cavalrymen cantered into
the road below, crossed the timber bridge at a gallop, and disappeared
in the pass, carbines poised.

She had arrived a minute too late; the pass was closed!

Toiling breathlessly up the bushy hillock, crouching, bending, creeping
across the stony open where scant grass grew in a meager garden, she
reached the cabin. It was empty; a fire smoldered under a kettle in
which potatoes were boiling; ash cakes crisped on the hearth, bacon
sizzled in a frying pan set close to the embers.

But where was the tenant?

A shout from the road below brought her to the door; then she dropped
flat on her stomach, crawled forward, and looked over the slope.

A red-haired old man, in his shirt sleeves, carrying a fishing pole, was
running down the road, chased by two gray-jacketed troopers. He ran
well, throwing away his pole and the string of slimy fish he had been
carrying; but, half way across the stream, they rode him down and caught
him, driving their horses straight into the shallow flood; and a few
moments later a fresh squad of cavalry trotted up, forced the prisoner
to mount a led horse, and, surrounding him, galloped rapidly away
southward.

The Special Messenger lay perfectly still and flat, watching, listening,
waiting, coolly alert for a shadow of a chance to slip out and through
the pass; but there was to be no such chance now, for a dozen troopers
came into view, running their lean horses at top speed, and wheeled
straight into the pass. A full squadron followed, their solid galloping
waking clattering echoes among the rocks. Then her delicate ears caught
a distant, ominous sound--nearer, louder, ringing, thudding, jarring,
pounding--the racket of field artillery arriving at full speed.

And into sight dashed a flying battery, guns and limbers bouncing and
thumping, whips cracking, chains crashing, the six-horse teams on a dead
run.

An officer drew bridle and threw his horse on its haunches; the first
team rushed on to the pass with a clash and clank of wheels and chains,
swung wide in a demi-tour, dropped a dully glistening gun, and then came
trampling back. The second, third, and fourth teams, guns and caissons,
swerved to the right of the hillock and came plunging up the bushy
slope, horses straining and scrambling, trampling through the wretched
garden to the level grass above.

One by one the gun teams swung in a half circle, each dropped its
mud-spattered gun, the cannoneers sprang to unhook the trails, the
frantic, half-maddened horses were lashed to the rear.

The Special Messenger rose quietly to her feet, and at the same instant
a passing cannoneer turned and saw her in the doorway.

"Hey!" he exclaimed; "what you doin' thar?"

A very young major, spurring up the slope, caught sight of her, too.

"This won't do!" he began excitedly, pushing his sweating horse up to
the door. "I'm sorry, but it won't do--" He hesitated, perplexed, eyeing
this slim, dark-eyed girl, who stood as though dazed there in her ragged
homespun and naked feet.

Colonel Carrick, passing at a canter, turned in his saddle, calling out:

"Major Kent! Keep that woman here! It's too late to send her back."

The boy-major saluted, then turned to the girl again:

"Who are you?" he asked, vexed.

She seemed unable to reply.

A cannoneer said respectfully:

"Reckon the li'l gal's jes' natch'ally skeered o' we-uns, Major, seein'
how the caval'y ketched her paw down thar in the crick."

The Major said briefly:

"Your father is a Union man, but nobody is going to hurt him. I'd send
you to the rear, too, but there's no time now. Please go in and shut
that door. I'll see that nobody disturbs you."

As she was closing the door the young Major called after her:

"Where's the well?"

As she did not know she only stared at him as though terrified.

"All right," he said, more gently. "Don't be frightened. I'll come back
and talk to you in a little while."

As she shut the door she saw the cannon at the pass limber up, wheel,
and go bumping up the hill to rejoin its bespattered fellows on the
knoll.

An artilleryman came along and dropped a bundle of picks and shovels
which he was carrying to the gunners, who had begun the emplacements;
the boyish Major dismounted, subduing his excitement with a dignified
frown; and for a while he was very fussy and very busy, aiding the
battery captain in placing the guns and verifying the depression.

The position of the masked battery was simply devilish; every gun,
hidden completely in the oak-scrub, was now trained on the pass.

Opposite, across the stream, long files of gray infantry were moving to
cover among the trees; behind, a battalion arrived to support the guns;
below, the cavalry had begun to leave the pass; troopers, dismounted,
were carefully removing from the road all traces of their arrival.

Leaning there by the window, the Special Messenger counted the returning
fours as troop after troop retired southward and disappeared around the
bend of the road.

For a while the picks and shovels of the gunners sounded noisily;
concealed riflemen, across the creek, were also busy intrenching. But
by noon all sound had ceased in the sunny ravine; there was nothing to
be seen from below; not a human voice echoed; not a pick-stroke; only
the sweet, rushing sound of the stream filled the silence; only the
shadows of the branches moved.

Warned again by the sentinels to close the battered window and keep the
door shut, she still watched the gunners, through the dirty window
panes, where they now lay under the bushes beside their guns. There was
no conversation among them; some of the artillerymen seemed to be
asleep; some sprawled belly-deep in the ferns, chewing twigs or idly
scraping holes in the soil; a few lay about, eating the remnants of the
morning's scanty rations, chewing strips of bacon rind, and licking the
last crumbs from the palms of their grimy hands.

Along the bush-hidden parapet of earth, heaps of ammunition
lay--cannister and common shell. She recognized these, and, with a
shudder, a long row of smaller projectiles on which soldiers were
screwing copper caps--French hand grenades, brought in by blockade
runners, and fashioned to explode on impact--so close was to be the
coming slaughter of her own people in the road below.

Toward one o'clock the gunners were served noon rations. She watched
them eating for a while, then, nerveless, turned back into the single
room of the cabin and opened the rear door--so gently and noiselessly
that the boyish staff-major who was seated on the sill did not glance
around until she spoke, asking his permission to remain there.

"You mustn't open that door," he said, looking up, surprised by the
sweetness of the voice which he heard now for the first time.

"How can anybody see me from the pass?" she asked innocently. "That is
what you are afraid of, isn't it?"

He shot a perplexed and slightly suspicious glance at her, then the
frowning importance faded from his beardless face; he bit a piece out of
the soggy corncake he was holding and glanced up at her again, amiably
conscious of her attractions; besides, her voice and manner had been a
revelation. Evidently her father had had her educated at some valley
school remote from these raw solitudes.

So he smiled at her, quite willing to be argued with and entertained;
and at his suggestion she shyly seated herself on the sill outside in
the sunlight.

"Have you lived here long?" he asked encouragingly.

"Not very," she said, eyes downcast, her clasped hands lying loosely
over one knee. The soft, creamy-tinted fingers occupied his attention
for a moment; the hand resembled the hand of "quality"; so did the ankle
and delicate arch of her naked foot, half imprisoned in the coarse shoe
under her skirt's edge.

He had often heard that some of these mountaineers had pretty children;
here, evidently, was a most fascinating example.

"Is your mother living?" he asked pleasantly.

"No, sir."

He thought to himself that she must resemble her dead mother, because
the man whom the cavalry had caught in the creek was a coarse-boned,
red-headed ruffian, quite impossible to reconcile as the father of this
dark-haired, dark-eyed, young forest creature, with her purely-molded
limbs and figure and sensitive fashion of speaking. He turned to her
curiously:

"So you have not always lived here on the mountain."

"No, not always."

"I suppose you spent a whole year away from home at boarding-school," he
suggested with patronizing politeness.

"Yes, six years at Edgewood," she said in a low voice.

"What?" he exclaimed, repeating the name of the most fashionable
Southern institute for young ladies. "Why, I had a sister
there--Margaret Kent. Were _you_ there? And did you ever--er--see my
sister?"

"I knew her," said the Special Messenger absently.

He was very silent for a while, thinking to himself.

"It must have been her mother; that measly old man we caught in the
creek is 'poor white' all through." And, munching thoughtfully again on
his soggy corncake, he pondered over the strange fate of this
fascinating young girl, fashioned to slay the hearts of Southern
chivalry--so young, so sweet, so soft of voice and manner, condemned to
live life through alone in this shaggy solitude--fated, doubtless, to
mate with some loose, lank, shambling, hawk-eyed rustic of the
peaks--doomed to bear sickly children, and to fade and dry and wither in
the full springtide of her youth and loveliness.

"It's too bad," he said fretfully, unconscious that he spoke aloud,
unaware, too, that she had risen and was moving idly, with bent head,
among the weeds of the truck garden--edging nearer, nearer, to a dark,
round object about the size of a small apple, which had rolled into a
furrow where the ground was all cut up by the wheel tracks of artillery
and hoofs of heavy horses.

There was scarcely a chance that she could pick it up unobserved; her
ragged skirts covered it; she bent forward as though to tie her shoe,
but a sentinel was watching her, so she straightened up carelessly and
stood, hands on her hips, dragging one foot idly to and fro, until she
had covered the small, round object with sand and gravel.

That object was a loaded French hand grenade, fitted with percussion
primer; and it lay last at the end of a long row of similar grenades
along the shaded side of the house.

The sentry in the bushes had been watching her; and now he came out
along the edge of the laurel tangle, apparently to warn her away, but
seeing a staff officer so near her he halted, satisfied that authority
had been responsible for her movements. Besides, he had not noticed that
a grenade was missing; neither had the major, who now rose and sauntered
toward her, balancing his field glasses in one hand.

"There's ammunition under these bushes," he said pleasantly; "don't go
any nearer, please. Those grenades _might_ explode if anyone stumbled
over them. They're bad things to handle."

"Will there be a battle here?" she asked, recoiling from the deadly
little bombs.

The Major said, stroking the down on his short upper lip:

"There will probably be a skirmish. I do not dare let you leave this
spot till the first shot is fired. But as soon as you hear it you had
better run as fast as you can"--he pointed with his field glasses--"to
that little ridge over there, and lie down behind the rocks on the other
side. Do you understand?"

"Yes--I think so."

"And you'll lie there very still until it is--over?"

"I understand. May I go immediately and hide there?"

"Not yet," he said gently.

"Why?"

"Because your father is a Union man.... And you are Union, too, are you
not?"

"Yes," she said, smiling; "are you afraid of me?"

A slight flush stained his smooth, sunburnt skin; then he laughed.

"A little afraid," he admitted; "I find you dangerous, but not in the
way you mean. I--I do not mean to offend you----"

But she smiled audaciously at him, looking prettier than ever; and his
heart gave a surprised little jump at her unsuspected capabilities.

"Why are you afraid of me?" she asked, looking at him with her engaging
little smile. In her eyes a bewitching brightness sparkled, partly
veiled by the long lashes; and she laughed again, poised there in the
sunshine, hands on her hips, delicately provoking his reply.

And, crossing the chasm which her coquetry had already bridged, he paid
her the quick, reckless, boyish compliment she invited--a little
flowery, perhaps, possibly a trifle stilted, but very Southern; and she
shrugged like a spoiled court beauty, nose uptilted, and swept him with
a glance from half-closed lids, almost insolent.

The sentry in the holly and laurel thicket stared hard at them both. And
he saw his major break off a snowy Cherokee rose and, bending at his
slim, sashed waist, present the blossom with the courtly air inbred
through many generations; and he saw a ragged mountaineer girl accept it
with all the dainty and fastidious mockery of a coquette of the golden
age, and fasten it where her faded bodice edged the creamy skin of her
breast.

What the young major said to her after that, bending nearer and nearer,
the sentry could not hear, for the major's voice was very low, and the
slow, smiling reply was lower still.

But the major straightened as though he had been shot through and
through, and bowed and walked away among the weeds toward a group of
officers under the trees, who were steadily watching the pass through
their leveled field glasses.

Once the major turned around to look back: once she turned on the
threshold. Her cheeks were pinker; her eyes sparkled.

The emotions of the Special Messenger were very genuine and rather
easily excited.

But when she had closed the door, and leaned wearily against it, the
color soon faded from her face and the sparkle died out in her dark
eyes. Pale, alert, intelligent, she stood there minute after minute,
searching the single room with anxious, purposeless eyes; then, driven
into restless motion by the torturing tension of anxiety, she paced the
loose boards like a tigress, up and down, head lowered, hands clasped
against her mouth, worrying the fingers with the edge of her teeth.

Outside, through the dirty window glass, she could see sentries in the
bushes, all looking steadily in the same direction; groups of officers
under the trees still focused their glasses on the pass. By and by she
saw some riflemen in butternut jeans climb into trees, rifles slung
across their backs, and disappear far up in the foliage, still climbing.

Toward five o'clock, as she was eating the bacon and hoe cakes which she
had found in the hut, two infantry officers opened the door, stared at
her, then, without ceremony, drew a rough ladder from the corner, set
it outside, and the older officer climbed to the roof.

She heard him call down to the lieutenant below:

"No use; I can't see any better up here.... They ought to set a signal
man on that rock, yonder!"

Other officers came over; one or two spoke respectfully to her, but she
did not answer. Finally they all cleared out; and she dragged a bench to
the back door, which swung open a little way, and, alert against
surprise, very cautiously drew from the inner pocket her linen contour
map and studied it, glancing every second or two out through the crack
in the door.

Nobody disturbed her; with hesitating forefinger she traced out what
pretended to be a path dominating the northern entrance of the pass,
counted the watercourses and gullies crossing the ascent, tried to fix
the elevations in her mind.

As long as she dared she studied the soiled map, but, presently, a quick
shadow fell across the threshold, and she thrust the map into the
concealed pocket and sprang to open the door.

"Coming military events cast foreboding shadows," she said, somewhat
breathless.

"Am I a foreboding and military event?" asked the youthful major,
laughing. "What do I threaten, please?"

"Single combat," she said demurely, smiling at him under half-veiled
lids. And the same little thrill passed through him again, and the quick
color rose to his smooth, sunburnt face.

"I was ready to beat a retreat on sight," he said; "now I surrender."

"I make no prisoners," she replied in airy disdain.

"You give no quarter?"

"None.... Why did you come back?"

"You said I might."

"Did I? I had quite forgotten what I had said to you. When are you going
to let me go?"

His face fell and he looked up at her, troubled.

"I'm afraid you don't understand," he said. "We dare not send you away
under escort now, because horses' feet make a noise, and some prowling
Yankee vidette may be at this very moment hanging about the pass----"

"Oh," she said, "you prefer to let me remain here and be shot?"

He said, reddening: "At the first volley you are to go with an escort
across the ridge. I told you that, didn't I?"

But she remained scornful, mute and obstinate, pretty head bent,
twisting the folds of her faded skirt.

"Do you think I would let you remain here if there were any danger?" he
asked in a lower voice.

"How long am I to be kept here?" she asked pettishly.

"Until the Yankees come through--and I can't tell you when that will be,
because I don't know myself."

"Are they in the pass?"

"We don't know. Everybody is beginning to be worried. We can't see very
far into that ravine----"

"Then why don't you go where you _can_ see?" she said with a shrug.

"Where?" he asked, surprised.

"Didn't you know that there is a path above the pass?"

"A path!"

"Certainly. I can show you if you wish. You ought to be able to see to
the north end of the pass--if I am not mistaken----"

"Wait a moment!" he said excitedly. "I want you to take me there--just a
second, to speak to those officers--I'm coming back immediately----"

And he started on a run across the ravaged garden, holding his sabre
close, midway, by the scabbard.

That was her chance. Picking up her faded sunbonnet, she stepped from
the threshold, swinging it carelessly by one string. The sentries were
looking after the major; she dropped her sunbonnet, stooped to recover
it, and straightened up, the hidden hand grenade slipping from the crown
of the bonnet into her bodice between her breasts.

A thousand eyes seemed watching her as, a trifle pale, she strolled on
aimlessly, swinging the recovered sunbonnet; she listened, shivering,
for the stern challenge to halt, the breathless shout of accusation, the
pursuing trample of heavy boots. And at last, quaking in every limb, she
ventured to lift her eyes. Nobody seemed to be looking her way; the
artillery pickets were still watching the pass; the group of officers
posted under the trees still focused their glasses in that direction;
the young major was already returning across the garden toward her.

[Illustration: "She dropped her sunbonnet--stooped to recover it."]

A sharp throb of hope set her pulses bounding--she had, safe in her
bosom, the means of warning her own people now; all she needed was a
safe-conduct from that knoll, and here it was coming, brought by this
eager, boyish officer, hastening so blithely toward her, his long, dark
shadow clinging like death to his spurred heels as he ran.

Would she guide him to some spot where it was possible to see the whole
length of the pass?

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, and turned, he at her side,
into the woods.

If her map was not betraying her once more the path _must_ follow the
edges of the pass, high up among those rocks and trees somewhere. There
was only one way of finding it--to climb upward to the overhanging
ledges.

Raising her eyes toward the leafy heights, it seemed to her incredible
that any path could lead along that wall of rock, which leaned outward
over the ravine.

But somehow she must mount there; somehow she must manage to remain
there unmolested, ready, the moment a single Union vidette cantered
into the pass, to hurl her explosive messenger into the depths below--a
startling but unmistakable signal to the blue column advancing so
unsuspiciously into that defile of hell.

As they climbed upward together through the holly-scrub she remembered
that she must not slip, for the iron weight in her bosom would endure no
rough caress from rock or earth.

How heavy it was--how hot and rough, chafing her body--this little iron
sphere, with a dozen deaths sealed up inside!

Toiling upward, planting her roughly shod feet with fearful precision,
she tried to imagine what it would be like if the tiny bomb in her bosom
exploded--tried to picture her terrified soul tearing skyward out of
bodily annihilation.

"It is curious," she thought with a slight shudder, "how afraid I always
am--how deeply, deeply afraid of death. God knows why I go on."

The boy beside her found the ascent difficult; spur and sabre impeded
him; once he lurched heavily against her, and his quick, stammered
apology was cut short by the dreadful pallor of her face, for she was
deadly afraid of the bomb.

"Did I hurt you?" he faltered, impulsively laying his hand on her arm.

She shivered and shook off his hand, forcing a gay smile. And they went
on together, upward, always upward, her pretty, provocative eyes meeting
his at intervals, her heart beating faster, death at her breast.

He was a few yards ahead when he called back to her in a low, warning
voice that he had found a path, and she hastened up the rocks to where
he stood.

Surely here was a trail winding along the very edge of the ledges, under
masses of overhanging rock--some dizzy runway of prehistoric man,
perhaps trodden, too, by wolf and panther, and later by the lank
mountaineer hunter or smuggler creeping to some eerie unsuspected by any
living creature save, perhaps, the silver-headed eagles soaring through
the fathomless azure vault above.

Below, the pass lay; but they could see no farther into it at first.
However, as they advanced cautiously, clinging to the outjutting cliff,
which seemed maliciously striving to push them out into space, by
degrees crag and trail turned westward and more of the pass came into
view--a wide, smooth cleft in the mountain, curving away toward the
north.

A few steps more and the trail ended abruptly in a wide, grassy space
set with trees, sloping away gently to the west, chopped off sheer to
the east, where it terminated in a mossy shelf overlooking the ravine.

Only a few rods away the dusk of the pass was cut by a glimmer of
sunlight; it was the northern entrance.

Something else was glimmering there, too; dozens of dancing points of
white fire--sunshine on buckle, button, bit and sabre. And the officer
beside her uttered a low, fierce cry and jerked his field glasses free
from the case.

"Their cavalry!" he breathed. "The Yankees are entering the pass, so
help me God!" And he drew his revolver.

So help him God! Something dark and round flew across his line of
vision, curving out into space, dropping, dropping into the depths
below. A clattering report, a louder racket as the rocky echoes,
crossing and recrossing, struck back at the clamoring cliffs.

[Illustration: "White-faced, desperate, she clung to him with the
tenacity of a lynx."]

_So help him God!_ Half stunned, he stumbled to his feet, his dazed eyes
still blurred with a vision of horsemen, vaguely seen through vapors,
stampeding northward; and, at the same instant, she sprang at him,
striking the drawn revolver from his hand, tearing the sabre free and
flinging it into the gulf. White-faced, desperate, she clung to him with
the tenacity of a lynx, winding her lithe limbs around and under his,
tripping him to his knees.

Over and over they rolled, struggling in the grass, twisting, straining,
slipping down the westward slope.

"You--devil!" he panted, as her dark eyes flashed level with his. "I've
got--you--anyhow----"

Her up-flung elbow, flexed like a steel wedge, caught him in the throat;
they fell over the low ridge, writhing in each other's embrace, down the
slope, over and over, faster, faster--crack!--his head struck a ledge,
and he straightened out, quivering, then lay very, very still and heavy
in her arms.

Fiercely excited, she tore strips from her skirt, twisted them, forced
him over on his face, and tied his wrists fast.

Then, leaving him inert there on the moss, she ran back for his
revolver, found it, opened it, made certain that the cylinder was full,
and, flinging one last glance down the pass, hastened to her prisoner.

Her prisoner opened his eyes; the dark bruise on his forehead was
growing redder and wetter.

"Stand up!" she said, cocking her weapon.

The boy, half stupefied, struggled to his knees, then managed to rise.

"Go forward along that path!"

For a full minute he stood erect, motionless, eyes fixed on her; then
shame stained him to the temples; he turned, head bent, and walked
forward, wrists tightly tied behind him.

And behind him, weapon swinging, followed the Special Messenger in her
rags, pallid, disheveled, her dark eyes dim with pity.



VIII

EVER AFTER

             --And they married, and had many children, and
             lived happy ever after.--Old Tales


For two days the signal flags had been talking to each other; for two
nights the fiery torches had been conversing about that beleaguered city
in the South.

Division after division, corps after corps, were moving forward; miles
of wagons, miles of cavalry in sinuous columns unending, blackened every
valley road. Later, the heavy Parrots and big Dahlgrens of the siege
train stirred in their parked lethargy, and, enormous muzzles tilted,
began to roll out through the valley in heavy majesty, shaking the
ground as they passed, guarded by masses of red artillerymen.

Day after day crossed cannon flapped on red and white guidons; day after
day the teams of powerful horses, harnessed in twenties, trampled
through the valley, headed south.

Off the sandy headland a Federal gunboat lay at anchor, steam up--a
blackened, chunky, grimy thing of timber and iron plates, streaked with
rust, smoke blowing horizontally from her funnels. And day after day she
consulted hill and headland with her kaleidoscopic strings of flags; and
headland and hill talked back with fluttering bunting by day and with
torches of fire by night.

From her window in the emergency hospital the Special Messenger could
see those flags as she sat pensively sewing. Sometimes she mended the
remnants of her silken stockings and the last relics of the fine under
linen left her; sometimes she scraped lint or sewed poultice bandages,
or fashioned havelocks for regiments southward bound.

She had grown slimmer, paler, of late; her beautiful hair had been
sheared close; her head, covered with thick, clustering curls, was like
the shapely head of a boy. Limbs and throat were still smooth and round,
but had become delicate almost to leanness.

The furlough she had applied for had not yet arrived; she seemed to
remain as hopelessly entangled in the web of war as ever, watching,
without emotion, the old spider. Death, busy all around her, tireless,
sinister, absorbed in his own occult affairs.

The routine varied but little: at dawn surgeons' call chorused by the
bugles; files of haggard, limping, clay-faced men, headed by sergeants,
all converging toward the hospital; later, in every camp, drums awaking;
distant strains of regimental bands at parade; and all day and all night
the far rumble of railroad trains, the whistle of locomotives, and, if
the wind veered, the faint, melancholy cadence of the bells swinging for
a clear track and right of way.

Sometimes, sewing by the open window, she thought of her brother, now
almost thirteen--thought, trembling, of his restless letters from his
Northern school, demanding of her that he be permitted to take his part
in war for the Union, begging to be enlisted at least as drummer in a
nine-months' regiment which was recruiting within sight of the dormitory
where he fretted over Cæsar and the happy warriors of the Tenth Legion.

Sometimes, mending the last shreds of her cambric finery, she thought of
her girlhood, of the white porches at Sandy River; and always, always,
the current of her waking dream swung imperceptibly back to that swift
crisis in her life--a flash of love--love at the first glance--a word!
and his regiment, sabres glittering, galloping pell-mell into the
thundering inferno between the hills.... And sunset; and the wounded
passing by wagon loads, piled in the blood-soaked hay; and the glimpse
of his limp gold-and-yellow sleeve--and her own white bed, and her lover
of a day lying there--dead----

At this point in the dream-tale her eyes usually became too dim to see
the stitches, and there was nothing to do except to wait until the tired
eyes were dry again.

The sentry on duty knocked, opened the door, and admitted a
weather-stained aide-de-camp, warning her respectfully:

"Orders for you, ma'am."

The Special Messenger cleared her eyes, breathing unevenly, and unsealed
the dispatch which the officer handed her.

When she read it she opened a door and called sharply to a hospital
orderly, who came running:

"Fit me with a rebel cavalry uniform--you've got that pile of
disinfected clothing in the basement. I also want one of our own cavalry
uniforms to wear over it--anything that has been cleaned. Quick,
Williams; I've only a few minutes to saddle! And bring me that bundle of
commissions taken from the rebel horsemen that were brought in
yesterday."

And to the mud-splashed aide-de-camp who stood waiting, looking out of
the window at the gunboat which was now churning in toward the wharf,
billows of inky smoke pouring from the discolored stacks:

"Please tell the general that I go aboard in half an hour. Tell him I'll
do my best." In a lower voice: "Ask him not to forget my brother--if
matters go wrong with me. He has given me his word.... And I think that
is all, thank you."

The A.-D.-C. said, standing straight, hollow-backed, spurred heels
together:

"Orders are verbally modified, madam."

"What?"

"If you do not care to go--it is not an order--merely a matter of
volunteering.... The general makes no question of your courage if you
choose to decline."

She said, looking at the officer a little wearily:

"Thank the general. It will give me much pleasure to fulfill his
request. Ask him to bear my brother in mind; that is all."

The A.-D.-C. bowed to her, cap in hand, then went out, making
considerable racket with sabre and boots.

Half an hour later a long, deep, warning blast from the gunboat's
whistle set the echoes flying through the hills.

Aboard, leading her horse, the Special Messenger, booted and spurred, in
a hybrid uniform of a subaltern of regulars, handed the bridle to a
sailor and turned to salute the quarterdeck.

                 *       *       *       *       *

The United States gunboat, _Kiowa_, dropped anchor at the railroad wharf
two days later, and ran out a blackened gangplank. Over it the Special
Messenger, wrapped in her rubber cloak, led her horse to shore, mounted,
and galloped toward the hill where the flag of corps headquarters was
flapping in the wet wind.

The rain ended as she rode inland; ahead of her a double rainbow glowed
and slowly faded to a rosy nimbus.

Corps headquarters was heavily impressive and paternally polite,
referring her to headquarters of the unattached cavalry division.

She remounted, setting her horse at an easy canter for the intervening
two miles, riding through acres of tents and vistas of loaded wagon
trains; and at last an exceedingly ornamental staff officer directed her
to her destination, and a few moments later she dismounted and handed
her bridle to an orderly, whose curiously fashioned forage cap seemed
strangely familiar.

As the Special Messenger entered his tent and saluted, the colonel of
the Fourth Missouri Cavalry rose from a camp chair, standing over six
feet in his boots. He was magnificently built; his closely clipped hair
was dark and curly, his skin smoothly bronzed and flushed at the cheek
bones; his allure that of a very splendid and grave and youthful god,
save for the gayly impudent uptwist of his short mustache and the
stilled humor in his steady eyes.

His uniform was entirely different from the regulation--he wore a blue
forage cap with short, heavy visor of unpolished leather shadowing the
bridge of his nose; his dark blue jacket was shell-cut; over it he wore
a slashed dolman trimmed at throat, wrists and edges with fur; his
breeches were buff; his boots finished at the top with a yellow cord
forming a heart-shaped knot in front; at his heels trailed the most
dainty and rakish of sabres, light, graceful, curved almost like a
scimiter.

All this is what the Special Messenger saw as she entered, instantly
recognizing a regimental uniform which she had never seen but once
before in her brief life. And straight through her heart struck a pain
swift as a dagger thrust, and her hand in its buckskin gauntlet fell
limply from the peak of her visor, and the color died in her cheeks.

What the colonel of the Fourth Missouri saw before him was a lad, slim,
rather pale, dark-eyed, swathed to the chin in the folds of a wet
poncho; and he said, examining her musingly and stroking the ends of his
curt mustache upward:

"I understood from General Sheridan that the Special Messenger was to
report to me. Where is she?"

The lightning pain of the shock when she recognized the uniform
interfered with breath and speech; confused, she raised her gloved hand
and laid it unconsciously over her heart; and the colonel of the Fourth
Missouri waited.

"I am the Special Messenger," she said faintly.

For a moment he scarcely understood that this slender young fellow, with
dark hair as closely clipped and as curly as his own, could be a woman.
Stern surprise hardened his narrowing gaze; he stood silent, handsome
head high, looking down at her; then slowly the latent humor flickered
along the edges of lip and lid, curbed instantly as he bowed, faultless,
handsome--only the persistently upturned mustache impairing the
perfectly detached and impersonal decorum with a warning of the _beau
sabreur_ behind it all.

"Will you be seated, madam?"

"Thank you."

She sat down; the wet poncho was hot and she shifted it, throwing one
end across her shoulder. In her uniform she appeared willowy and slim,
built like a boy, and with nothing of that graceful awkwardness which
almost inevitably betrays such masqueraders. For her limbs were straight
at the knees and faultlessly coupled, and there seemed to be the
adolescent's smooth lack of development in the scarcely accented
hips--only a straightly flowing harmony of proportion--a lad's grace
muscularly undeveloped.

Two leather straps crossed her breast, one weighted with field glasses,
the other with a pouch. From the latter she drew her credentials and
would have risen to present them, but the colonel of the Fourth Missouri
detained her with a gesture, himself rose, and took the papers from her
hand.

While he sat reading, she, hands clasped in her lap, gazed at his
well-remembered uniform, busy with her memories once more, and the
sweetness of them--and the pain.

They were three years old, these memories, now glimmering alive again
amid the whitening ashes of the past; only three years--and centuries
seemed to dim the landmarks and bar the backward path that she was
following to her girlhood!

She thought of the white-pillared house as it stood at the beginning of
the war; the severing of old ties, the averted faces of old friends and
neighbors; the mortal apprehension, endless suspense; the insurgent
flags fluttering from porch and portico along the still, tree-shaded
street; her own heart-breaking isolation in the community when Sumter
fell--she an orphan, alone there with her brother and bedridden
grandfather.

And she remembered the agony that followed the news from Bull Run, the
stupor that fell upon her; the awful heat of that battle summer; her
evening prayers, kneeling there beside her brother; the red moons that
rose, enormous, menacing, behind the trees; and the widow bird calling,
calling to the dead that never answer more.

Her dead? Why _hers_? A chance regiment passing--cavalry wearing the
uniform and number of the Fourth Missouri. Ah! she could see them again,
sun-scorched, dusty, fours crowding on fours, trampling past. She could
see a young girl in white, fastening the long-hidden flag to its
halyards as the evening light faded on the treetops!... And then--and
then--_he_ came--into her life, into her house, into her heart,
alas!--tall, lean, calm-eyed, yellow-haired, wrapped in the folds of his
long, blue mantle!... And she saw him again--a few moments before his
regiment charged into that growling thunder beyond the hills somewhere.

And a third time, and the last, she saw him, deathly still, lying on her
own bed, and a medical officer pulling the sheet up over his bony face.

                 *       *       *       *       *

The colonel of the Fourth Missouri was looking curiously at her; she
started, cleared the dimness from her eyes, and steadied the trembling
underlip.

After a moment's silence the colonel said: "You undertake this duty
willingly?"

She nodded, quietly touching her eyes with her handkerchief.

"There is scarcely a chance for you," he observed with affected
carelessness.

She lifted her shoulders in weary disdain of that persistent shadow
called danger, which had long since become too familiar to count very
heavily.

"I am not afraid--if that is what you mean. Do you think you can get me
through?"

The colonel said coolly: "I expect to do my part. Have you a rebel
uniform?"

She nodded.

"Where is it?"

"On me--under this."

The colonel looked at her; a slight shudder passed over him.

"These orders suggest that I start before sunset," he said. "Meanwhile
this tent is yours. My orderly will serve you. The regiment will move
out about sunset with some six hundred sabres and Gray's Rhode Island
flying battery."

He walked to the tent door; she followed.

"Is that your horse?" he asked.

"Yes, Colonel."

"Fit for the work?" turning to look at her.

"Yes, sir."

"And _you_?"

She smiled; through the open tent a misty bar of sunshine fell across
her face, turning the smooth skin golden. Outside a dismounted trooper
on guard presented his carbine as the tall, young colonel strode out. An
orderly joined him; they stood a moment consulting in whispers, then the
orderly ran for his saddled horse, mounted, and rode off through the
lanes of the cavalry camp.

From the tent door the Special Messenger looked out into the camp. Under
the base of a grassy hill hundreds of horses were being watered at a
brook now discolored by the recent rains; beyond, on a second knoll, the
guns of a flying battery stood parked. She could see the red trimmings
on the gunners' jackets as they were lounging about in the grass.

The view from the tent door was extensive; a division, at least, lay
encamped within range of the eye; two roads across the hills were full
of wagons moving south and east; along another road, stretching far into
the valley, masses of cavalry were riding--apparently an entire
brigade--but too far away for her to hear the trample of the horses.

From where she stood, however, she could make out the course of a fourth
road by the noise of an endless, moving column of horses. At times,
above the hillside, she could see their heads, and the enormous
canvas-covered muzzles of siege guns; and the racket of hoofs, the
powerful crunching and grinding of wheels, the cries of teamsters united
in a dull, steady uproar that never ceased.

From their camp, troopers of the Fourth Missouri were idly watching the
artillery passing--hundreds of sunburned cavalrymen seated along the
hillside, feet dangling, exchanging gibes and jests with the drivers of
the siege train below. But from where she stood she could see nothing
except horses' heads tossing, blue caps of mounted men, a crimson guidon
flapping, or the sun glittering on the slender, curved blade of some
officer's sabre as he signaled.

North, east, west, south--the whole land seemed to be covered with
moving men and beasts and wagons; flags fluttered on every eminence;
tents covered plowed fields, pastures, meadows; smoke hung over all,
crowning the green woods with haze, veiling hollows, rolling along the
railway in endless, yellow billows.

The rain had washed the sky clean, but again this vast, advancing host
was soiling heaven and blighting earth as it passed over the land
toward that beleaguered city in the South.

War! Everywhere the monotony of this awful panorama, covering her
country day after day, month after month, year after year--war, always
and everywhere and in every stage--hordes of horses, hordes of men,
endless columns of deadly engines! Everywhere, always, death, or the
preparation for death--every road and footpath crammed with it, every
field trampled by it, every woodland shattered by it, every stream
running thick with its pollution. The sour smell of marching men, the
stale taint of unclean fires, the stench of beasts--the acrid,
indescribable odor that hangs on the sweating flanks of armies seemed to
infect sky and earth.

A trooper, munching an apple and carrying a truss of hay, passed, cap
cocked rakishly, sabre banging at his heels; and she called to him and
he came up, easily respectful under the grin of bodily well being.

"How long have you served in this regiment?" she asked.

He swallowed the bite of apple which crowded out his freckled cheeks:
"Three years, sir."

[Illustration: "'We was there--I know that, yes, an' we had a fight.'"]

She drew involuntarily nearer the tent door.

"Then--you were at Sandy River--three years ago?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you remember the battle there?"

The soldier looked doubtful. "We was there--I know that; yes, an' we had
a fight----"

"Yes--near a big white house."

The soldier nodded. "I guess so; I don't seem to place no big white
house----"

She asked calmly: "Your regiment had a mounted band once?"

He brightened.

"Yes, sir-ee! They played us in at Sandy River--and they got into it,
too, and was cut all to pieces!"

She motioned assent wearily; then, with an effort: "You don't know,
perhaps, where he--where their bandmaster was buried?"

"Sir?"

"The bandmaster of the Fourth Missouri? You remember him--that tall,
thin young officer who led them with his sabre--who sat his horse like a
colonel of regulars--and wore a cap of fur like--like a hussar of some
militia State guard----"

"Well, you must mean Captain Stanley, who was at that time bandmaster of
our regiment. He went in that day at Sandy River when our mounted band
was cut to pieces. Orders was to play us in, an' he done it."

There was a silence.

"Where is he--buried?" she asked calmly.

"Buried? Why, _he_ ain't dead, is he?"

"He died at Sandy River--that day," she said gently. "Don't you
remember?"

"No, sir; our bandmaster wasn't killed at Sandy River."

She looked at him amazed, almost frightened.

"What do you mean? He is dead. I--saw him die."

"It must have been some other bandmaster--not Captain Stanley."

"I saw the bandmaster of your regiment, the Fourth Missouri Cavalry,
brought into that big white house and laid on my--on a bed----" She
stared at the boy, caught him by the sleeve: "He is dead, isn't he? Do
you know what you are telling me? Do you understand what I am saying?"

"Yes, sir. Captain Stanley was our bandmaster--he wasn't captain then,
of course. He played us in at Sandy River--by God! I oughter know,
because I got some cut up m'self."

"You--you tell me that he wasn't killed?" she repeated, steadying
herself against the canvas flap.

"No, sir. I heard tell he was badly hurt--seems like I kinder
remember--oh, yes!" The man's face lighted up. "Yes, sir; Captain
Stanley, he had a close shave! It sorter comes back to me now, how the
burial detail fetched him back saying they wasn't going to bury no man
that twitched when they shut his coffin. Yes, sir--but it's three years
and a man forgets, and I've seen--things--lots of such things in three
years with Baring's dragoons. Yes, sir."

She closed her eyes; a dizziness swept over her and she swayed where she
stood.

"Is he here?"

"Who? Captain Stanley? Yes, sir. Why, he's captain of the Black Horse
troop--F, third squadron.... They're down that lane near the trees.
Shall I take you there?"

She shook her head, holding tightly to the canvas flap; and the trooper,
saluting easily, resumed his truss of hay, hitched his belt, cocked his
forage cap, and went off whistling.

All that sunny afternoon she lay on the colonel's camp bed, hands
tightly clenched on her breast, eyes closed sometimes, sometimes wide
open, gazing at the sun spots crawling on the tent wall.

To her ears came bugle calls from distant hills; drums of marching
columns. Sounds of the stirring of thousands made tremulous the dim
silence of the tent.

Dreams long dead arose and possessed her--the confused dreams of a
woman, still young, awakened from the passionless lethargy of the past.

Vaguely she felt around her the presence of an earth new born, of a new
heaven created. She realized her own awakening; she strove to comprehend
_his_ resurrection, and it frightened her; she could not understand that
what was dead through all these years was now alive, that the ideal she
had clung to, evoking it until it had become part of her, was real--an
actual and splendid living power. In this vivid resurgence she seemed to
lose her precise recollections of him now that he was alive.

While she had believed him dead, everything concerning his memory had
been painfully real--his personal appearance, the way he moved, turned,
the sound of his voice, the touch of his hand as it tightened in hers
when he lay there at sunset, while she and Death watched the color
fading from his face.

But now--now that he was living--here in this same world with her
again--strive as she would she could neither fix either his features nor
the sound of his voice upon her memory. Only the stupefying wonder of it
possessed her, dulling her senses so that even the happiness of it
seemed unreal.

                 *       *       *       *       *

How would they meet?--they two, who had never met but thrice? How would
they seem, each to the other, when first their eyes encountered?

In all their lives they had exchanged so little speech! Yet from the
first--from the first moment, when she had raised her gaze to him as he
entered in his long, blue cloak, her silence had held a deeper meaning
than her speech. And on that blessed night instinct broke the silence;
yet, with every formal word exchanged, consciousness of the occult bond
between them grew.

But it was not until she thought him dead that she understood that it
had been love--love unheralded, unexpected, incredible--love at the
first confronting, the first encountering glance. And to the memory of
that mystery she had been faithful from the night on which she believed
he died.

How had it been with him throughout these years? _How had it been with
him?_

The silvery trumpets of the cavalry were still sounding as she mounted
her horse before the colonel's tent and rode out into the splendour of
the setting sun.

On every side cavalrymen were setting toe to stirrup; troop after troop,
forming by fours, trotted out to the crest of the hill where the Western
light lay red across the furrowed grass.

A blaze of brilliant color filled the road where an incoming Zouave
regiment had halted, unslinging knapsacks, preparing to encamp, and the
setting sun played over them in waves of fire, striking fiercely across
their crimson fezzes and trousers.

Through their gorgeous lines the cavalry rode, colonel and staff
leading; and with them rode the Special Messenger, knee to knee with the
chief trumpeter, who made his horse dance when he passed the gorgeous
Zouave color guard, to show off the gridiron of yellow slashings across
his corded and tasseled breast.

And now another infantry regiment blocked the way--a heavy, blue column
tramping in with its field music playing and both flags flying in the
sunset radiance--the Stars and Stripes, with the number of the regiment
printed in gold across crimson; and the State flag--white, an Indian and
an uplifted sword on the snowy field: Massachusetts infantry.

On they came, fifes skirling, drums crashing; the colonel of the Fourth
Missouri gave them right of way, saluting their colors; the Special
Messenger backed her horse and turned down along the column.

Under the shadow of her visor her dark eyes widened with excitement as
she skirted the halted cavalry, searching the intervals where the troop
captains sat their horses, naked sabres curving up over their shoulder
straps.

"Not this one! Not _this_ one," her little heart beat hurriedly; and
then, without warning, panic came, and she spurred up to the major of
the first squadron.

"Where is Captain Stanley?" Her voice almost broke.

"With his troop, I suppose--'F,'" replied that officer calmly; and her
heart leaped and the color flooded her face as she saluted, wheeled, and
rode on in heavenly certainty.

A New York regiment, fresh from the North, was passing now, its
magnificent band playing "Twinkling Stars"; and the horses of the
cavalry began to dance and paw and toss their heads.

One splendid black animal reared suddenly and shook its mane out; and at
the same moment she saw _him_--knew him--drew bridle, her heart in her
mouth, her body all a-tremble.

He was mastering the black horse that had reared, sitting his saddle
easily, almost carelessly, his long, yellow-striped legs loosely
graceful, his straight, slim figure perfect in poise and balance.

And now the trumpets were sounding; captain after captain turned in his
saddle, swung his sabre forward, repeating the order: "Forward--march!
Forward--march!"

The Special Messenger whirled her horse and sped to the head of the
column.

"I was just beginning to wonder--" began the colonel, when she broke in,
breathless:

"_May_ I ride with Captain Stanley of F, sir?"

"Certainly," he replied, surprised and a trifle amused. She hesitated,
nervously picking at her bridle, then said: "When you once get me
through their lines--I mean, after I am safely through and you are ready
to turn around and leave me--I--I would like--to--to----"

"Yes?" inquired the colonel, gently, divining some "last message" to
deliver. For they were desperate chances that she was taking, and those
in the beleaguered city would show her no mercy if they ever caught her
within its battered bastions.

But the Special Messenger only said: "Before your regiment goes back,
may I tell Captain Stanley who I am?"

The colonel's face fell.

"Nobody is supposed to have any idea who you are----"

"I know it. But is there any harm if I only tell it to--to just this
one, single man?" she asked, earnestly, not aware that her eyes as well
as her voice were pleading--that her whole body, bent forward in the
saddle, had become eloquent with a confession as winning as it was
innocent.

The colonel looked curiously into the eager, flushed face, framed in its
setting of dark, curly hair, then he lifted a gauntleted hand from his
bridle and slowly stroked his crisp mustache upward to hide the smile he
could not control.

"I did not know," he said gravely, "that Captain Stanley was
the--ah--'one' and 'only' man."

She blushed furiously, the vivid color ran from throat to temple,
burning her ears till they looked like rose petals caught in her dark
hair.

"You may tell Captain Stanley--if you must," observed the colonel of the
Fourth Missouri. He was gazing absently straight between his horse's
ears when he spoke. After a few moments he looked at the sky where,
overhead, the afterglow pulsated in bands of fire.

"I always thought," he murmured to himself, "that old Stanley was in
love with that Southern girl he saw at Sandy River.... I had no idea he
knew the Special Messenger. It appears that I am slightly in error."
And, very thoughtfully, he continued to twist his mustache skyward as he
rode on.

When he ventured to glance around again the Special Messenger had
disappeared.

"Fancy!" he muttered; "fancy old Stanley knowing the mystery of the
three armies! And, by gad, gentlemen!" addressing, _sotto voce_, the
entire regiment, as he turned in his stirrups and looked back at the
darkening column behind him--"by gad! gentlemen of the Fourth Dragoons,
no prettier woman ever sat a saddle than is riding this moment with the
captain of Troop F!"

What Captain Stanley saw riding up to him through the dull afterglow was
a slightly built youth in the uniform of the regular cavalry, yellow
trimming on collar, yellow welts about the seams of the jacket, yellow
stripes on the breeches; and, as the youth drew bridle, saluted, and
turned to ride forward beside him, he caught sight of a lieutenant's
shoulder straps on the sergeant's shell jacket.

"Well, youngster," he said, smiling, "don't they clothe you in the
regulars? You're as eccentric as our butternut friends yonder."

"I couldn't buy a full uniform," she said truthfully. She did not add
that she had left at a minute's notice for the most dangerous
undertaking ever asked of her, borrowing discarded makeshifts anywhere
at hazard.

"Are you a West Pointer?"

"No."

"Oh! You've their seat--and their shapely leanness. Are you going with
us?"

"Where are _you_ going?"

Stanley laughed. "I'm sure I don't know. It looks to me as though we
were riding straight into rebeldom."

"Don't you know why?" she asked, looking at him from under the shadow of
her visor.

"No. Do you?"

"Yes."

After a pause: "Well," he said, laughing, "are you going to tell me?"

"Yes--later."

Neck and neck, knee and knee they rode forward at the head of the Black
Horse troop, along a road which became dusky beyond the first patch of
woods.

After the inner camp lines had been passed the regiment halted while a
troop was detailed as flankers and an advanced guard galloped off ahead.
Along the road behind, the guns of the Rhode Island Battery came
thudding and bumping up, halting with a dull clash of chains.

Stanley said: "This is one of Baring's pet raids; we've done it dozens
of times. Once our entire division rode around Beauregard; but I didn't
see the old, blue star division flag this time, so I guess we're going
it alone. Hello! There's infantry! We must be close to the extreme
outposts."

In the dusk they were passing a pasture where, guarded by sentinels, lay
piled, in endless, straight rows, knapsacks, blankets, shelter tents,
and long lines of stacked Springfield rifles. Soldiers with the white
strings of canteens crossing their breasts were journeying to and from a
stream that ran, darkling, out of the tangled woodland on their right.

On the opposite side of the road were the lines of the Seventieth
Indiana, their colors, furled in oilcloth, lying horizontally across the
forks of two stacks of rifles. Under them lay the color guard; the
scabbarded swords of the colonel and his staff were stuck upright in
the ground, and the blanket-swathed figures of the officers in poncho
and havelock reposed close by.

The other regiment was the Eleventh Maine. Their colonel, strapped with
his silver eagles, was watching the disposal of the colors by a sergeant
wearing the broad stripe, blue diamond and triple underscoring on each
sleeve. With the sergeant marched eight corporals, long-limbed, rugged
giants of the color company, decorated with the narrow stripe and double
chevron.

A few minutes later the cavalry moved out past the pickets, then swung
due south.

Night had fallen--a clear, starlit, blossom-scented dimness freshening
the air.

The Special Messenger, head bent, was still riding with Captain Stanley,
evidently preferring his company so openly, so persistently, that the
other officers, a little amused, looked sideways at the youngster from
time to time.

After a while Stanley said pleasantly: "We haven't exchanged names yet,
and you haven't told me why a regular is riding with us to-night."

"On special service," she said in a low voice.

"And your name and regiment?"

She did not appear to hear him; he glanced at her askance.

"You seem to be very young," he said.

"The colonel of the Ninetieth Rhode Island fell at twenty-two."

He nodded gravely. "It is a war of young men. I think Baring himself is
only twenty-five. He's breveted brigadier, too."

"And you?" she asked timidly.

He laughed. "Thirty; and a thousand in experience."

"I, too," she said softly.

"You? Thirty?"

"No, only twenty-four; but your peer in experience."

"Your voice sounds Southern," he said in his pleasant voice, inviting
confidence.

"Yes; my home was at Sandy River."

Out of the corners of her eyes she saw him start and look around at
her--felt his stern gaze questioning her; and rode straight on before
her without response or apparent consciousness.

"Sandy River?" he repeated in a strained voice. "Did you say you lived
there?"

"Yes," indifferently.

The captain rode for a while in silence, then, carelessly: "There was, I
believe, a family living there before the war--the Westcotes."

"Yes." She could scarcely utter a word for the suffocating throb of her
heart.

"You knew them?"

"Yes."

"Do--do they still live at Sandy River?"

"The house still stands. Major Westcote is dead."

"Her--I mean their grandfather?"

She nodded, incapable of speech.

"And"--he hesitated--"and the boy? He used to ride a pony--the most
fascinating little fellow----"

"He is at school in the North."

There was a silence, then the captain turned in his saddle and looked
straight at her.

"Does Miss Westcote live there still?"

"Do you mean Celia Westcote?" asked the Messenger calmly.

"Yes--Celia--" His voice fell softly, making of her name a caressing
cadence. The Special Messenger bent her head lower over her bridle.

"Why do you ask? Did you know her?"

"Yes."

"Well?"

The captain lifted his grave eyes, but the Messenger was not looking at
him.

"I knew her--in a way--better than I ever knew any woman, and I saw her
only three times in all my life. That is your answer--and my excuse for
asking. Does she still live at Sandy River?"

"No."

"Do you know where she has gone?"

"She is somewhere in the South."

"Is she--married?" he asked under his breath.

The Special Messenger looked up at him, smiling in the darkness.

"No," she said. "I heard that she lost her--heart--to a bandmaster of
some cavalry regiment who was killed in action at Sandy River--three
years ago."

The captain straightened in his saddle as though he had been shot; in
the dim light his lean face turned darkly scarlet.

"I see her occasionally," continued the Messenger faintly; "have you any
message--perhaps----"

The captain turned slowly toward her. "Do you know where she is?"

"I expect that she will be within riding distance of me--very soon."

"Is your mission a secret one?"

"Yes."

"And you may see her--before very long?"

"Yes."

"Then tell her," said the captain, "that the bandmaster of the Fourth
Missouri--" He strove to continue; his voice died in his throat.

"Yes--yes--say it," whispered the Special Messenger. "I will tell her;
she will understand--truly she will--whatever you say."

"Tell her--that the bandmaster has--has never forgotten----"

"Yes--yes----"

"Never forgotten her!"

"Yes--oh, yes!"

"That he--he----"

"Yes! Oh, please--please say it--don't be afraid to say--what you wish!"

The captain's voice was not under perfect control.

"Say that he--thinks of her.... Say that--that he--he thought of her
when he was falling--there, in the charge at Sandy River----"

"But he once told her that himself!" she cried. "Has he no more to tell
her?"

And Captain Stanley, aghast, fairly leaped in his stirrups.

"Who are you?" he gasped. "What do _you_ know of----"

His voice was smothered in the sudden out-crash of rifles, through which
startled trumpets sounded, followed by the running explosions of cavalry
carbines.

"Attention! Draw sabres!" rang out a far voice in the increasing uproar.

The night air thrilled with the rushing swish of steel drawn swiftly
across steel.

"Forward!" and "Forward! Forward!" echoed the officers, one after
another.

"Steady--right dress!"--taken up by the troop officers: "Steady--right
dress! By fours--right wheel--march!"

Pell-mell the flanking parties came crashing back out of the dusky
undergrowth, and:

"Steady--trot! Steady--right dress--gallop!" came the orders.

"Gallop!" repeated her captain, blandly; and, under his breath: "We are
going to charge. Quick, tell me who you are!"

"Steady--steady--charge!" came the clear shout from the front.

"Charge! Charge! Charge!" echoed the ringing orders from troop to troop.

In the darkness of the thickets she rode knee to knee with her captain.
The grand stride of her horse thundering along beside his through
obscurity filled her with wild exultation; she loosened curb and snaffle
and spurred forward amid hundreds of plunging horses, now goaded frantic
by the battle clangor of the trumpets.

Everywhere, right and left, the red flash of Confederate rifles ran
along their flanks; here and there a stricken horse reared or stumbled,
rolling over and over; or some bullet-struck rider swayed wide from the
saddle and went down to annihilation.

Fringed with darting flames the cavalry drove on headlong into the
unseen; behind clanked the flying battery, mounted gunners sabering the
dark forms that leaped out of the underbrush; on--on--rushed horses and
guns, riders and cannoneers--a furious, irresistible, chaotic torrent,
thundering through the night.

[Illustration: "'Yes,' she gasped, 'The Special
Messenger--noncombatant!'"]

Far behind them now danced and flickered the rifle flames; fainter,
fainter grew the shots; and at last, galloping steadily and, by degrees,
reforming as they rode, the column swung out toward the bushy hills in
the west, slowed to a canter, to a trot, to a walk.

"We are through!" said the Special Messenger, brokenly, breathing fast
as she pulled in her mount and turned in the starlight toward the man
she rode beside.

At the same moment the column halted; and he drew bridle and looked
steadily at her.

All around them was the confusion and turmoil of stamping, panting
horses, the clank of metal, the heavy breathing of men.

"Look at me!" she whispered, baring her head in the starlight. "Quick!
Look at me! Do you know me now? Look at me--if you--love me!"

A low cry broke from him; she held out both arms to him in the dim
light, forcing her horse up against his stirrup.

"If you love me," she breathed, "say so now!"

Leaning free from his saddle he caught her in his arms, held her, looked
into her eyes.

"You?"

"Yes," she gasped, "the Special Messenger--noncombatant!"

"The Special Messenger? _You?_ Good God!"

A dull tattoo of hoofs along the halted column, nearer, nearer,
clattering toward them from the front, and:

"Good-by!" she sobbed; "they're coming for me! Oh--do you love me? Do
you? Life was so dark and dreadful without you! I--I never
forgot--never, never! I----"

Her gloved hands crept higher around the neck of the man who held her
crushed in his arms.

"If I return," she sighed, "will you love me? Don't--don't look at me
that way. I will return--I promise. I love you so! I love you!"

Their lips clung for a second in the darkness, then she swung her horse,
tearing herself free of his arms; and, bared head lifted to the skies,
she turned south, riding all alone out into the starlit waste.


THE END



      *      *      *      *      *      *


OTHER BOOKS

BY

ROBERT W. CHAMBERS

Mr. Chambers is unquestionably the most popular of American novelists
to-day. He is the author of some thirty books of extraordinary variety
in fiction. He was born in New York, and studied in the studios of Paris
to become an artist. While working at painting he took up writing as a
pastime, and had such immediate success that he soon gave up art and
turned to literature as his life work. Always, as a part of this
interest, he has studied and worked in the field of natural history, so
that to-day he is something of an authority on birds and butterflies, a
confirmed fisherman, and a good shot. All these qualities--the study of
art, the experience with nature, both in the line of sport and as an
entomologist--have put their stamp upon his work, as will be seen by a
glance at his books, for only a few of which there is space here
available.

THE FIRING LINE

    The most recent of his works is the third in a group of studies
    in American society life. It is full of the swing of good
    romance, behind which lies the bright philosophy that the saving
    quality in our American families is to come with the injection
    of fresh blood into each new generation. The story itself deals
    with the adopted daughter of a multimillionaire, who does not
    even know her own parentage--a girl from nowhere, with all the
    charm and beauty which a bringing up in the midst of wealth can
    give her. The hero is a young American of good family who first
    meets her at Palm Beach, Florida. Here is a background that Mr.
    Chambers loves--the outdoor life of exotic Florida, the
    everglades, the hunting, the shooting, and the sea--all in the
    midst of that other exotic life which goes with a winter resort
    and a large group of the idle rich. The story--already in its
    150th thousand--is, perhaps, the author's favorite piece of
    work.

THE YOUNGER SET

    is also of the social _comédie humaine_ of America, with
    its scenes laid in New York and on Long Island. Here again,
    behind a romance of love and of society complications, Mr.
    Chambers conceals his philosophic suggestions that may be
    gathered from the title. The younger set comes into our society
    fresh and unspoiled with each generation, and in its way
    contributes something of freshness, something of vigor to keep
    the social world from going down hill on a grade of decadence.
    The story deals with a man who, although still young, feels that
    his life is practically over because his marriage, through no
    fault of his own, has proved a failure and ended in divorce. He
    meets a young girl just introduced into society, whose wholesome
    youth charms him and leads him back to optimism and life. The
    character of _Eileen_ is perhaps one of Mr. Chambers's most
    real and most successful creations. The fact that this novel,
    after one year, is in its 200th thousand is sufficient proof of
    its popularity. In

THE FIGHTING CHANCE

    the author still deals with American society, but here his
    background is the consideration of the evil influences of
    inheritance in old families. The scene is still New York and
    Long Island, full of the charm of outdoor life and hunting
    episodes. The principal male character _Siward_ is cursed
    with the inheritance of drink. _Siward's_ struggles to
    conquer his Enemy, and the fighting chance he sees at last in
    the affection of a girl, carry on the story to a hopeful finish.
    The novel has been published two years and a few months and more
    than 250,000 copies have been sold, so that its claims to
    success are undeniable.

THE RECKONING

    The varied interests of the author which have been suggested
    above are sustained in this novel. It is a story of a side light
    of the American Revolution, and it makes the fourth novel in a
    series of books telling in fiction of the scenes and invoking
    the characters in the Mohawk Valley during the war for American
    Independence. The first novel of the series was "Cardigan"; the
    second, "The Maid-at-Arms"; the third is still to be written,
    when the distinguished author can find time; while "The
    Reckoning" is the last.

IOLE

    Another splendid example of the author's versatility is this
    farcical, humorous satire on the _art nouveau_ of to-day.
    Mr. Chambers, with all his knowledge of the artistic jargon, has
    in this little novel created a pious fraud of a father, who
    brings up his eight lovely daughters in the Adirondacks, where
    they wear pink pajamas and eat nuts and fruit, and listen to him
    while he lectures them and everybody else on art. It is easy to
    imagine what happens when several rich and practical young New
    Yorkers stumble upon this group. Everybody is happy in the end.

THE TRACER OF LOST PERSONS

    Here again is a totally different vein of half humor and half
    seriousness. Mr. Chambers selects a firm of detectives (based,
    by the way, on fact) who guarantee to find lost persons, missing
    heirs, etc. In this case the author's fancy and humor suggest to
    a young bachelor, who has always had an ideal girl in mind, that
    he go and describe her as a real person to _Mr. Keen_, the
    Tracer of Lost Persons. He gives his description, and, as may be
    supposed, _Mr. Keen_ finds the girl, but after such a
    series of episodes, escapes, discoveries and dénouements that it
    takes a full-grown novel to accomplish the task.

THE TREE OF HEAVEN

    Half in fancy, half in fact, the thread of an occult idea runs
    through this weird theme. You cannot, even at the end, be quite
    sure whether the author has been making fun of you or not.
    Perhaps, if the truth were told, he could not quite tell you
    himself. The tale all hangs about one of a group of friends who
    lives for years in the Far East and gathers some of the occult
    knowledge of that far-off land. Into the woof of an Eastern rug
    is woven the soul of a woman. Into the glisten of a scarab is
    polished the prophecy of a life. Into the whole charming romance
    of the book is woven the thread of an intangible, "creepy,"
    mysterious force. What is it? Is it a joke? Who knows?

SOME LADIES IN HASTE

    This novel is as widely different from all the others as if
    another hand had written it and another mind conceived it. This
    time, too, it is impossible to say whether the author is
    quizzing our new thought transference and telepathic friends, or
    whether he is half inclined to suggest that "there may be
    something in it." Here is a character who suddenly discovers
    that by concentrating his mind on certain ideas he can inject or
    project them into others. And forthwith he sets half a dozen
    couples making love to each other in most grotesque surroundings.
    They climb trees and become engaged. They put on strange Panlike
    costumes and prance about the woods--always charming, always
    well bred, always with a touch of romance that makes the reader
    read on to the end and finally lay the book down with a smile of
    pleasure and a little sigh that it is over so soon.

One might run on for twenty books more, but there is not space enough
even to mention Mr. Chambers's delightful nature books for children,
telling how _Geraldine_ and _Peter_ go wandering through "Outdoor-land,"
"Mountain-Land," "Orchard-Land," "River-Land," "Forest-Land," and
"Garden-Land." They, in turn, are as different from his novels in fancy
and conception as each of his novels from the other. No living writer
has given to the public so varied a list of books with such
extraordinary popularity in all of them as Mr. Robert W. Chambers.





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