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Title: A Little Union Scout
Author: Harris, Joel Chandler, 1848-1908
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 "A Little Union Scout" ***

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Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



[Illustration: A LITTLE UNION SCOUT
By JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS]

[Illustration: I drank in the melody with a new sense of its wild and
melancholy beauty (_Page 56_)]



A LITTLE UNION SCOUT



By

JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS

AUTHOR OF GABRIEL TOLLIVER,
THE MAKING OF A STATESMAN
AND WALLY WANDEROON



_Illustrated by George Gibbs_


NEW YORK
McCLURE, PHILLIPS & CO.
MCMIV

_Copyright, 1904, by_
JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS

Published, April, 1904

Copyright, 1904, by The Curtis Publishing Company



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


I drank in the melody with a new sense of its wild
and melancholy beauty                                 _Frontispiece_

                                                          Facing page

"He's tryin' to git away!" yelled Forrest in a voice
that could be heard all over the field                             10

"I want you to catch this fellow and fetch him to me"              38

Whistling Jim ran into him head down like a bull                   64

I was wild with remorse and grief                                  96

"If hate could kill you, you would fall dead from this horse"     110

The leader ... had an evil-looking eye                            138

He had me covered                                                 156



A LITTLE UNION SCOUT



I


A young lady, just returned from college, was making a still-hunt in
the house for old things--old furniture, old china, and old books. She
had a craze for the antique, and the older things were the more
precious they were in her eyes. Among other things she found an old
scrap-book that her mother and I thought was safe under lock and key.
She sat in a sunny place and read it page by page, and, when she had
finished, her curiosity was aroused. The clippings in the old
scrap-book were all about the adventures of a Union scout whose name
was said to be Captain Frank Leroy. The newspaper clippings that had
been preserved were queerly inconsistent. The Northern and Western
papers praised the scout very highly, and some of them said that if
there were more such men in the army the cause of the Union would
progress more rapidly; whereas the Southern papers, though paying a
high tribute to the dash and courage of the scout, were highly abusive.
He was "one of Lincoln's hirelings" and as villanous as he was bold.

The girl graduate at once jumped to the conclusion that there was a
story behind the old scrap-book, else why should it be preserved by her
father, who had been a Confederate soldier? This idea no sooner took
shape than she became insistently inquisitive. As for her father, the
very sight of the scrap-book awoke the echoes of a hundred
experiences--long and dangerous rides in the lonely night, battles,
sharp skirmishes and bitter sufferings.

The story, such as it was, took shape in my mind, and I am afraid that
the young girl had small difficulty in persuading me to tell it. Memory
brought before me the smiling features of Harry Herndon, my life-long
friend and comrade, the handsome face of Jack Bledsoe, one of our
college mates from Missouri, and the beautiful countenance of his
sister, Katherine Bledsoe. These and a hundred other faces came
crowding from the past, and the story was told almost before I knew it.

When Harry Herndon and I went to the wars we were somewhat belated. The
excitement of '61 found us at college, where we had orders to remain
until we had finished the course, and the orders came from one whom we
had never dared to disobey--Harry's grandmother. And then, when we were
ready to go, she cut in ahead of our plans and sent us to the West with
letters to General Dabney Maury, whom she had known when he was a boy
and later when he was a young officer in the regular army.

We were not ill-equipped for two raw youngsters; we had Whistling Jim,
the negro, three fine horses, and more money than I had ever seen
before. We went to General Maury and were most courteously received.
The Virginia Herndons--Harry belonged to the Maryland branch--were
related to him--and he liked the name. We caught the barest glimpse of
service at Corinth, and were fortunate enough to be in a few
skirmishes, where we distinguished ourselves by firing at nothing
whatever.

In the course of a few weeks General Maury was made commander of the
Department of the Gulf, with headquarters at Mobile, where we saw
service as clerks and accountants. For my part, the life suited me
passing well, but Harry Herndon fretted so that we were soon
transferred to the command of General Forrest, who was sadly in need of
men. As it happened, we had little difficulty in finding our man. We
had heard that he was in the neighborhood of Chattanooga, giving his
men and horses a much-needed rest; but on the way news came to us that,
in spite of his brilliant achievements in the field, he had been
deprived of the choicest regiments of his brigade--men whom he had
trained and seasoned to war. After this mutilation of his command, he
had been ordered to Murfreesborough to recruit and organize a new
brigade.

Toward Murfreesborough, therefore, we made our way, falling in with a
number of Forrest's men who had been on a brief visit to their homes in
Alabama and were now returning to their command. As we shortly
discovered, the Union commanders in Tennessee mistook General Forrest's
movement to the neighborhood of Chattanooga for a retreat; for, shortly
after he moved in that direction, an ambitious Federal officer asked
and received permission to enter Northern Alabama with a force large
enough to worry the Confederate leader if he could be found. The
organization and equipment of this force required a longer time than
the Federal commander had counted on, and by the time it was ready to
move General Forrest, with the remnant of his command, was on his way
to Murfreesborough.

In some way--the sources of his information were as mysterious as his
movements--General Forrest learned that a Federal force was making its
way toward Northern Alabama, and he did not hesitate to give it his
attention. Within a very short time he had followed and overtaken it,
passing it on a road that lay parallel to its line of march. Then it
was that the Federal commander began to hear rumors and reports all
along his route that Forrest was making a rapid retreat before him. It
was stated that his men were discontented and that the condition of his
horses was something terrible.

One day, along toward evening, the Federal commander went into camp in
the neighborhood of a wooded hill that commanded the approach from the
south. He felt sure that the next day would witness the rout and
capture of the Confederate who had for so long harassed the Federals in
Tennessee. As he came to the hill he passed within a few hundred yards
of Forrest's men, who were concealed in the woods. The Federals went
into camp, while Forrest, leaving a part of his command in the enemy's
rear, silently passed around his right flank.

Now, it happened that Harry Herndon and myself, accompanied by
Whistling Jim and the companions we had picked up on the way, were
coming up from the south. It happened also that we were following the
road leading through the valley to the left of the hill on which the
opposing forces were stationed. It was very early in the morning, and
as we rode along there was not a sound to be heard, save the jingling
of our bridles.

The valley had more length than breadth, and was shaped something like
a half-moon, the road following the contour of the crescent. We had
proceeded not more than a hundred yards along the road within the
compass of the valley when a six-pounder broke the silence with a bang,
and a shell went hurtling through the valley. It seemed to be so
uncomfortably near that I involuntarily ducked my head.

"Marse Cally Shannon," said Whistling Jim, the negro, addressing me,
"what you reckon make dem white folks bang aloose at we-all, when we
ain't done a blessed thing? When it come ter dat, we ain't ez much ez
speaken ter um, an' here dey come, bangin' aloose at us. An' mo' dan
dat, ef dat ar bung-shell had 'a' hit somebody, it'd 'a' fetched sump'n
mo' dan blood."

Whistling Jim's tone was plaintive, but he seemed no more frightened
than Harry was. Following the bang of the gun came the sharp rattle of
musketry. We learned afterward that this firing occurred when the
advance guard of the Federal commander collided with Forrest's famous
escort. We had no idea of the result of the collision, or that there
had been a collision. We had paused to make sure of our position and
whereabouts. Meanwhile, the little six-pounder was barking away
furiously, and presently we heard a strident voice cut the morning air:
"Go and tell Freeman to put his battery right in on that gun. I give
you five minutes."

"That's our man!" cried one of the troopers who had fallen in with us
on our journey. Joy shone in his face as he urged his horse forward,
and we followed right at his heels. In a moment we saw him leap from
his horse and throw the bridle-reins to a trooper who was holding a
string of horses. We gave ours to Whistling Jim to hold and ran forward
with the man we had been following.

We came right upon General Forrest--I knew him from the newspaper
portraits, poor as they were. He was standing with his watch in his
hand. He looked us over with a coldly critical eye, but gave us no
greeting. He replaced the watch in his pocket and waved his hand to a
bugler who was standing expectantly by his side. The clear notes rang
out, and instantly there ensued a scene that baffles description. There
was a rush forward, and Harry and I were carried with it.

I could hear loud commands, and shouting, and the rattle of carbines,
muskets, and pistols made my ears numb--but what happened, or when or
where, I could no more tell you than the babe at its mother's breast. I
could only catch glimpses of the fighting through the smoke, and though
I was as close to General Forrest as any of his men--right by his side,
in fact--I could not tell you precisely what occurred. I could hear
cries and curses and the explosion of firearms, but beyond that all was
mystery.

I had time during the _mêlée_ to take note of the actions of General
Forrest, and I observed that a great change had come over him. His
face, which was almost as dark as an Indian's when in perfect repose,
was now inflamed with passion and almost purple. The veins on his neck
stood out as though they were on the point of bursting, and his blazing
eyes were bloodshot. Above the din that was going on all around him his
voice could be heard by friend and foe alike. I cannot even describe my
own feelings.

A courier rode up. He had lost his hat, and there was a spot of blood
on his chin. He reported that the Federals were making a desperate
effort on the extreme right. "He's tryin' to git away!" yelled Forrest
in a voice that could be heard all over the field. "Tell Freeman to
take his guns thar and shove 'em in right on top of 'em. We've got the
bulge on 'em here, and we're coming right along."

[Illustration: "He's tryin' to git away!" yelled Forrest in a voice
that could be heard all over the field.]

And, sure enough, we began to find less and less resistance in front of
us, and presently I could see them running out into the valley, filling
the road by which we had come.



II


No pursuit was made at the time, and the Federals, finding that they
were not harried, proceeded in a leisurely way toward the river. We
followed slowly and at night went into camp, the men and horses getting
a good rest. Scouts were coming in to make reports at all hours of the
night, so that it was practically true, as one of the old campaigners
remarked, that a horse couldn't whicker in the enemy's camp "but what
the General 'd hear it sooner or later."

Early the next morning we were on the road, and I had time for
reflecting that, after all, war was not a matter of flags and music.
The General was very considerate, however--a fact that was due to a
letter that General Maury had intrusted to Harry Herndon's care. We
were permitted to ride as temporary additions to General Forrest's
escort, and he seemed to single us out from among the rest with various
little courtesies, which I imagined was something unusual.

He was somewhat inquisitive about Whistling Jim, Harry's body-servant,
who he thought was a little too free and easy with white men. But he
seemed satisfied when Harry told him that the negro's forebears for
many generations back had belonged to the Herndons. We halted for a
light dinner, and when we had finished General Forrest made a careful
inspection of his men as they filed into the road.

We had gone but a few miles when we came to a point where the roads
forked. On one he sent a regiment, with Freeman's battery, with
instructions to reach the river ahead of the Federals and hold the ford
at all hazards until the main body could come up. This done, we swung
into the road that had been taken by the Federals and went forward at a
somewhat brisker pace.

"I'm going to give your nigger the chance of his life," remarked
General Forrest somewhat grimly, "and he'll either fling up his hands
and go to the Yankees, or he'll take to the woods."

"He may do one or the other," replied Harry; "but if he does either
I'll be very much surprised." General Forrest laughed; he was evidently
very sure that a negro would never stand up before gun-fire. A scout
came up to report that the Federals were moving much more rapidly than
they had moved in the morning.

"I reckon he's got wind of the column on the other road," the General
commented. "I allowed he'd hear of it. He's a mighty smart man, and
he's got as good men as can be found--Western fellows. If he had known
the number of my men in the woods back yander he'd 'a' whipped me out
of my boots." And then his eye fell again on Whistling Jim, who was
laughing and joking with some of the troopers. He called to the negro
in stern tones, and ordered him to ride close to his young master. "We
are going to have a little scrimmage purty soon, and a nigger that's
any account ought to be right where he can help his master if he gets
hurt."

Whistling Jim's face, which had grown very serious when he heard his
name called by the stern commander, suddenly cleared up and became
illuminated by a broad grin. "You hear dat, Marse Harry!" he exclaimed.
"I'm gwine in right behime you!" He reflected a moment, and then
uttered an exclamation of "Well, suh!"

About four o'clock in the afternoon the troopers under General Forrest
came in contact with Federals. This was in the nature of a surprise to
the Union commander, for there were persistent reports that Forrest had
passed on the other road, with the evident intention of harrying the
Federals at a point where they had no intention of crossing. So well
assured was he that these reports were trustworthy that he was
seriously considering the advisability of detaching a force
sufficiently large to capture the Confederate. He therefore paid small
attention to the attacks on his rear-guard. But presently the pressure
became so serious that he sent a member of his staff to investigate it.

Before the officer could perform this duty the rear-guard was compelled
to retreat on the main body in the most precipitate manner. Then the
attack ceased as suddenly as it began, and the Federal commander
concluded that, under all the circumstances, it would be best to cross
the river and get in touch with his base of supplies.

He went forward as rapidly as his troops could march, and he had a
feeling of relief when he came in sight of the river. It was higher
than it had been when he crossed it three or four days before, but
still fordable; but as his advance guard began to cross, Freeman's
battery, operated by young Morton, opened on them from the ambuscade in
which it had been concealed. The thing to do, of course, was to charge
the battery and either capture it or silence it, and the Federal
commander gave orders to that effect. But Forrest, looking at the
matter from a diametrically opposite point of view, knew that the thing
to do was to prevent the capture of the battery, and so he increased
the pressure upon the Federal rear to such an extent that his opponent
had no time to attend to the Confederate battery.

The Union commander was a very able man and had established a
reputation as a good fighter. So now, with perfect coolness, he managed
to present a very strong front where the rear had been, and he made
desperate efforts to protect his flank. But he was too late. Forrest
said afterward that it was as pretty a move as he had ever seen, and
that if it had been made five minutes sooner it would probably have
saved the day.

Just as the movement was about to be completed it was rendered useless
by the charge of Forrest's escort, a picked body of men, led by the
General in person. In the circumstances such charges were always
irresistible. Before the Federals could recover, the Confederate
general, by means of a movement so sudden that no commander could have
foreseen it, joined his force with that which was supporting Freeman's
battery and charged all along the line, bringing the eight and
twelve-pounders right to the front. No men, however brave, could stand
before a battery at close range, and the inevitable result ensued--they
got out of the way, and stood not on the order of their going. They
floundered across the river as best they could, and if they had not
been American troops they would have been demoralized and rendered
useless for fighting purposes; but, being what they were, they showed
their courage on many a hard-fought field as the war went on.

When night fell we retired a mile or two from the river and went into
camp. Forrest was in high good-humor. He had accomplished all that he
had set out to accomplish, and more. He had emphasized the fact that it
was dangerous work for the Federals to raid Northern Alabama while he
was in striking distance, and he had captured army stores and secured
horses that were comparatively fresh. The most welcome capture was the
arms, for many of his men were armed with flintlock muskets.

He was very talkative. "That nigger of yours done about as well as any
of the balance of us," he said to Harry Herndon.

"I didn't see him at all during the fighting," replied Harry, "but I
told him you'd have him shot if he ran."

"Well, he went right in," remarked the General, "and I expected him to
go over to the Yankees. Maybe he'd 'a' gone if it hadn't been for the
water."

At that moment we heard Whistling Jim calling, "Marse Harry! Marse
Cally Shannon!" I answered him so that he could find us, and he came up
puffing and blowing. A red handkerchief was tied under his chin and
over his head.

"Marse Harry!" he exclaimed, "kin I see you an' Marse Cally Shannon by
yo'se'f? I done done sump'n dat you'll sho kill me 'bout."

"Well, don't make any secret of it," said I. "Out with it!" exclaimed
Harry.

"Marse Harry, I done gone an' shot Marse Jack Bledsoe."

"Good Lord!" cried Harry.

"Yasser, I done shot 'im, an' he's bad hurt, too. You know dat las'
time we went at um? Well, suh, I wuz shootin' at a man right at me, an'
he knock my han' down des ez I pull de trigger, an' de ball cotch him
right 'twix de hip an' de knee. He call me by my name, an' den it come
over me dat we done got mix' up in de shuffle an' dat I wuz shootin' at
you. But 'twuz Marse Jack Bledsoe; I know'd 'im time I look at 'im
good."

"Good heavens! Is he dead?" inquired Harry, his voice shaking a little
in spite of himself.

"He ain't dead yit, suh," replied Whistling Jim. "I got down off'n my
hoss an' pick 'im up an' take 'im out er de paff er de rucus, an' den
when you-all done des ez much shootin' an' killin' ez you wanter, I
went back an' put 'im on my hoss an' tuck 'im ter dat little house by
de river. Dey's a white lady dar, an' she say she'll take keer un' 'im
twel somebody come. Does you reckon any er his side gwineter come back
atter 'im, Marse Harry? Kaze ef dey don't, I dunner what de name er
goodness he gwineter do. Dar he is, an' dar he'll lay. I'm done sick er
war ef you call dis war--you hear me!"

Harry said nothing, but I knew he was thinking of the fair Katherine,
Jack's sister, and wondering if he would ever be to her what she was to
him. He had his face in his hands, and appeared ready to give way to
grief. General Forrest turned to an orderly: "Go fetch Grissom here;
tell him to come right away." The surgeon soon came, General Forrest
told Whistling Jim to lead the way, and we were soon riding through the
night in the direction of the river.



III


A fine mist was falling, and the night was so dark that we would never
have found our way but for a small dog whose inhospitable bark directed
us to the cabin. The dog was so disturbed by our approach that a woman
opened the door to see what the trouble could be. We found Jack Bledsoe
on a pallet, and saw at a glance that the woman had administered such
remedies as common-sense and experience had taught her would allay the
fever of a wound. He recognized us at once, and Harry could hardly keep
back his tears when he saw his college chum lying helpless on the
floor. He supported Jack's head while the surgeon was examining the
wound.

"You are here sooner than I thought," said Jack, gripping Harry's hand
hard, "but I knew you would--I knew it. And there is Carroll Shannon,"
he went on, holding out a hand to me. "You never were very fond of me,
Carroll, but I always liked you."

I hardly knew what to say, and therefore I said nothing. I could only
take his hand in mine and give him a grip that would tell him more than
words could tell. "Don't worry, old fellow," Jack continued, observing
the expression of grief and anxiety in Harry Herndon's countenance.
"It's all owing to the way the cards fall. Some day your turn may come,
and then I hope I'll be able to go to you." His eyes were unnaturally
bright, and his lips trembled with suppressed emotion.

The tension was relieved by the woman, who looked at both the young
fellows, and then turned to the surgeon and asked almost unconcernedly,
"Ain't war a hell of a thing?"

It was the surgeon who responded. "It would be hard to find a better
definition, ma'am."

"I've saw lots wuss'n this," she remarked, as if she would thus find
excuse for her sudden use of an expression that is rarely heard on the
lips of a woman.

"Why, yes, ma'am--a great deal worse. This is not a bad case at all. No
great damage has been done. He will be lame for some weeks--perhaps for
a longer time. The ball struck the bone, glanced, and is now close to
the surface."

In a few moments he had deftly extracted it, and the wounded man seemed
to be greatly relieved. Medicine, strange to say, had been declared a
contraband of war by the Federals, and the surgeon could spare but a
driblet of quinine from his small supply; but he left some, and gave
various directions with respect to the possible symptoms that might
arise.

Just then the woman's husband entered the door. He was an emaciated,
unkempt man, whose movements were in strange contrast with his
appearance. He was one of the most trustworthy of General Forrest's
scouts, but neither betrayed the fact that he knew the other. On the
contrary, the man was both angry and rude. "What'd I tell you, Rhody?"
he exclaimed, turning to his wife. "I know'd they'd crowd us out'n
house an' home ef they got a chance; I could 'a' took oath to it! Cuss
'em, an' contrive 'em, both sides on 'em, all an' similar! They'd as
lief make a hoss-stable out'n the house as not, an' I built it wi' my
two han's."

"An' what ef you did?" inquired the woman with some show of spirit.
"Hit ain't sech a beauty that you kin brag on it. An' who made your two
han's? You made 'em, I reckon, an' nobody else could 'a' done it."

The man made a gesture as though he could in that way weaken the force
of the woman's words, and he evidently knew when to speak, for he said
no more. On the contrary, sympathy shone in his eyes when he looked at
the wounded man. "Don't you worry, Bill; ef ther's any worryin' to be
done, leave it to me. It takes a 'oman to know how to worry right; an'
ever'thing oughter be done right."

"Can you get a boat across the river?" inquired General Forrest,
turning to the man. He was somewhat doubtful until he caught the
General's eye, and then he thought that nothing would be easier.
"Well," said the General, "go across and tell the Yankees that there's
a wounded officer at your house and that he needs attention. Tell 'em
that General Forrest says they can get him whenever they send after
him."

"Is this General Forrest?" inquired Jack Bledsoe. "General, I hardly
know how to thank you. I had just been dreaming of prison."

The General made a deprecatory gesture, and was on the point of saying
something, when the man of the house spoke up. "Ef you're Gener'l
Forrest," he said, "you'll be more than pleased to know that the
Yankees ain't never took time for to cook supper. After they hit the
furder bank they jest kep' on a-humpin', an' I don't blame 'em myself,
bekaze 'twuz the only way wet men could keep warm."

"It's up to you, Herndon; he's your prisoner. He ought to be in a
hospital where he could be looked after, but I reckon he'll have to
stay where he is for a while."

"He won't put me out a mite ef he stays," said the woman. "He'll be
company fer me when Bill is pirootin' 'roun'."

General Forrest gave us permission to remain where we were for the
night. "We move at five," said he. "Bill here will put you across and
show you which way to go when he has found your horses for you." Just
how Bill would do that was a mystery, but we asked no questions.

We called for Whistling Jim when General Forrest had gone, but he was
nowhere to be found. He had shown us the way to the cabin and then
disappeared. I judged that he was afraid Jack Bledsoe would upbraid him
or that Harry would give him a scolding; but, whatever his reasons, he
disappeared when we went in the cabin, and we saw him no more till the
next morning.

Harry and Jack talked of old times until the woman was compelled to
warn the wounded man that it would be worse for him if he excited
himself. But he talked away in spite of the warning. He talked of his
sister Katherine, much to Harry's delight, and told of his own
sweetheart in Missouri. His colonel, he said, was very fond of
Katherine, but he declared that Kate still thought of Harry, whereupon
the young fellow blushed and looked as silly as a school-girl.

Tom Ryder was the Colonel's name, and he had a sister Lucy. Miss Lucy
was Jack's choice out of a thousand, he said. The main trouble with
Jack was that his sweetheart's sister, Jane Ryder, didn't like him--and
so forth and so on, till I nodded where I sat, and dreamed of Katherine
and Jane and Lucy Ryder, until someone took me by the arm and told me
that it was time to be up and going.

We delayed our departure on one excuse and another, until finally Bill,
who was to be our guide, grew irritable; and even then we made a
further delay while Jack pencilled a note to his colonel, which Harry
was to take charge of as long as there was danger of his capture by
roving bands of Federals, and then it was to be given to the guide, who
thought he could insure its delivery.

When we were ready, and could invent no further excuse, Harry turned to
Jack. "The war doesn't touch us, dear boy. Good-by, and don't fail to
put in a good word for me when you go home."

Jack Bledsoe's face brightened up. "That's so!" he exclaimed; "I can go
home now. Well, you may depend on me, Harry; but the two Miss Ryders
are all the other way, and I'll be between two fires. Tell Whistling
Jim I have no hard feelings. He has really done me a favor, if things
turn out no worse than they are."

We bade our friend good-by again and went out into the damp morning
air, each with his various thoughts. I congratulated myself that mine
had little to do with the troublesome sex. The fog, hanging heavily
over the river, shut out the sunlight. We had to take the guide's word
for that, for we could see no sign of the sun. Indeed, it was so dark
that we had considerable difficulty in making our way. But when we were
on the other side, and had mounted the somewhat steep bank, the fog
disappeared and the sun shone out; and not far away we saw Whistling
Jim and the horses.

He hailed our coming with delight, for he had been waiting some time,
and he was both cold and frightened. He took off his hat, as he said,
to old King Sun, and he seemed to feel all the better for it; and we
all felt better when our horses were between our knees. Even the horses
felt better, for they whinnied as we mounted, and were for going at a
more rapid gait than was necessary.

We entered the scrub timber and went through it for half a mile or
more, and then suddenly came out on the public highway. The guide
suggested that we smarten up our gait, and we put the horses to a
canter. I thought surely that the man would give out, but he merely
caught hold of my stirrup to help him along, and when we came to a
cross-road, and halted at his suggestion, he showed as little fatigue
as the horses--this man who seemed too frail to walk a mile.

Here he gave us such instructions as seemed necessary, and was just
about to so-long us, as he said, when he paused with his hand to his
ear. "I'll be whopped," he exclaimed, "ef I don't hear buggy-wheels,
an' they're comin' right this way." With that he slipped into the
bushes, and, though I knew where he was concealed, it was impossible to
catch a glimpse of him.

There was a bend in the road about a quarter of a mile ahead of us, and
we waited expectantly, while Whistling Jim, with a cunning for which I
did not give him credit, pretended to be fixing his saddle-girth. As we
waited a top-buggy rounded the bend in the road and came bowling toward
us. It was surprising to see a buggy, but I was more surprised when its
occupant turned out to be a woman--a woman in a top-buggy, riding
between two hostile armies!



IV


The lady made no pause whatever, and apparently was not at all
surprised to find soldiers in the road ahead of her. She was not large,
and yet she had a certain dignity of deportment. She was not youthful,
neither was she old, but she was very grave-looking, as if she had seen
trouble or was expecting to see it. Under any other circumstances I
should have paid small attention to her, but the situation was such
that I was compelled to regard her with both interest and curiosity.
Almost in a moment my curiosity took the shape of sympathy, for there
was something in the pale face that commanded it.

She was accompanied by a very clean-looking officer on horseback, and
he, in turn, was followed by a small escort of cavalry--I did not take
the trouble to count them, for my eyes were all for the lady; and it
was left to Harry Herndon to realize the fact that we were in something
of a pickle should the officer take advantage of the position in which
he found us. He saw at once that our capture was a certainty unless we
took prompt measures to provide against it, and he was quick to suggest
that we adopt the tactics of Forrest and ride at them if they made a
display of hostilities. I had just time to shift my carbine to the
front under my overcoat and loosen the flap of my holsters when the
lady drove up. We raised our hats as she came up, and made way for her
to pass.

But she did nothing of the sort. She brought her horse to a halt.
"Good-morning," she said, as cool as a cucumber. "You can't deceive us
with your blue overcoats; you are both rebels. Oh, I have heard more of
you Southerners than can be found in the newspapers."

"I'm sure we had no thought of deceiving you," responded Harry with one
of his engaging smiles. "We are from the South, and you are from the
North, of course. It may be that we are well met."

"Oh, no! not this time. I have seen prisoners taken before," remarked
the lady with a little smile.

"Then you'll not flinch to see them taken again," said Harry very
boldly. "But I shall regret to put you to any inconvenience."

I think the confident air of Harry saved us considerable trouble at the
moment; but while he was putting on a bold front and trembling in his
shoes--as he told me afterward--I had my eyes on the lady. She looked
at me once, and turned her face away; twice, and frowned; thrice, and
blushed. "I was afraid at first that you were a prisoner," I remarked
in a tone that was intended to be apologetic, but the lady calmly
turned her head away and ignored me.

"To what command are you attached?" inquired the Federal officer, very
brusquely.

"We are serving under General Forrest," replied Harry.

"Why are you so far away from your command?" the officer inquired with
real curiosity. His tone was so puzzling that Harry hesitated an
instant--but in that instant a detachment of Forrest's troopers came
around the bend in the road.

"Are we indeed so very far from our command?" I inquired.

The troopers came rattling up, and the officer turned to the lady,
somewhat ungraciously, I thought, with the remark that they had been
led into an ambuscade.

This was so ridiculous that I laughed aloud, though I felt little like
laughing. "What amuses you?" the lady asked in some surprise. "I am
sure I can see nothing humorous in our situation."

"Perhaps you have heard ladies placed under such accusations before?" I
suggested.

"Miss Ryder knows I meant no such thing," said the officer with some
heat.

"Is this Miss Lucy Ryder?" I inquired.

"What do you know of Lucy Ryder?" the lady asked.

"I know she has a sister Jane," I answered, whereupon the lady blushed
again. "And I have heard that Miss Jane doesn't like a friend of
ours--a young fellow named Jack Bledsoe, who is greatly in need of
sympathy at this time."

"I like him well enough to go on a wild-goose chase in search of him,"
the lady replied. "We had an idea that he had been left on the
battle-field."

Harry, who had been consulting with our comrades who had just arrived,
returned in time to overhear a part of this conversation. He fumbled in
his pocket and finally produced Jack Bledsoe's note. He lifted his hat
as he handed it to the lady. She read it very calmly, and then passed
it to the Federal officer who had escorted her: "You see, I am
justified in coming."

"We sat up with Jack last night, my friend and I," Harry remarked.

"Well, you know the Bible tells us to love our enemies," remarked the
lady, dryly.

"It was an easy matter to carry out the commandment in this particular
instance, for, with the exception of this gentleman here"--indicating
me--"Jack Bledsoe is the dearest friend I ever had."

"I know you well enough," the lady remarked with a smile. "You are
Harry Herndon, and your friend there is Carroll Shannon, and the negro
is Whistling Jim. Why, I know your grandmother, although I have never
seen her."

"That doesn't help us now. How are we to find Captain Bledsoe?" asked
the officer. I could have slapped him for the tone he employed.

"It is all provided for," replied Harry Herndon, curtly. "All you have
to do is to hold on to the pommel of your saddle. There is a
non-combatant here who will guide you. Bill!"

"I'm a-lis'nin' at ye," responded the guide from the bushes.

"This is one of the natives," Harry explained. "His wife is taking care
of Jack Bledsoe and he will have no difficulty whatever in showing you
the way."

The officer thanked us ungraciously, though why he took that attitude I
was unable to discover, and we were on the point of joining our
comrades when the lady remarked: "You'll probably know me again when
you see me, Mr. Carroll Shannon!" This was a rebuke, I knew, and it
upset me not a little, but there was something in the tone of her voice
that sounded like a challenge, and I remarked that I should be sure to
know her. "Then call my attention to the fact when you next see me,"
she cried as she touched up her horse.

"With great pleasure," I answered, raising my hat, and with that we
were off to join our waiting comrades. It seemed that General Forrest
was somewhat concerned for our safety, knowing that the country was
strange to us, and he had sent William Forrest's company of
Independents to watch the road for us so that we might come to no harm.
While engaged in carrying out this order they saw the lady and her
escort far ahead of them, and a detachment was sent to investigate, the
rest of the company remaining to see whether other Federals would
follow. Thus they came upon us in the very nick of time, for I judge
that the Federal officer would have held us prisoners, in spite of the
information we had for him, for he was very gruff and surly.

We reached the recruiting camp at Murfreesborough without further
incident, and Harry and I soon settled down to the routine of duties
that fell to our share. Harry served General Forrest temporarily as a
courier, while I was billeted with Captain Bill Forrest's company of
Independents, sometimes known as the Forty Thieves, owing to their
ability as foragers.

I had time to ramble about in the woods, and I took advantage of it
to explore the whole countryside in the neighborhood of the camp.
Returning one day from a ride that was partly on business and partly
for pleasure, I was informed that General Forrest had sent for me.
When I responded to his summons he was reading a late copy of the
Chattanooga _Rebel_, and was evidently much interested in what he read.
He handed the paper to me when he had finished, and pointed out an
article that was printed under a great display of black type.

A Federal scout, Leroy by name, and well known in both armies (so the
newspaper said), had entered General Bragg's lines under very peculiar
circumstances and had then managed to escape. Two pickets had been
found bound and gagged. The whole story appeared to be absurd.

It was stated, among other things, that the scout intended to turn his
attention to General Forrest. He directed my eye to this, and said he
wanted me to take the matter in hand. I inquired how the correspondent
knew the intentions of the scout.

"Why, he guessed 'em," replied General Forrest, "and he guessed right,
too. I've got information from one of my men who is thick with the
Yankees that this chap will soon be nosing around here, and I want to
give him the worth of his money. I don't want the other side to know
how many men I've got, and I don't want 'em to know that my superior
officer has refused to honor my requisition for arms and horses. I'd
cut a purty figure with the Yankees if they know'd that some of my men
had muskets that were used in the Revolutionary War. If they found this
out I'd never whip another fight. And there's another thing: I don't
want to have it said that any Yankee scout can stick his nose in my
camp and not git it pulled. That's why I sent for you; I want you to
catch this fellow and fetch him to me."

[Illustration: "I want you to catch this fellow and fetch him to me."]

I tried hard to get out of the difficulty. I protested that I didn't
know the scout from a side of sole leather. But the General said that
this was one of his reasons for detailing me to perform this duty. He
said he would have given it to Jasper Goodrum, of the Independents, but
everybody in Tennessee knew Goodrum.

"He was born and raised around here," the General said, "and he's got a
tongue like a bell-clapper. Now, you're not much of a talker, and your
face gives you the look of a big baby that has got out of its mammy's
yard and don't know how to git back." I suppose I must have turned red
under this back-handed compliment, for he went on, "I wish I had a
thousand like you. I watched you that day on the hill and at the river,
and you may put it down that I'll trust you anywhere."

I tried to thank the General for his confidence, but he stayed me by a
gesture. He settled all the details that could be thought of
beforehand, and, as I turned to go, he rose from his chair and followed
me to the door. "If you have to shoot that fellow," he said, "do it and
don't wait too long before you do it; and if you have to shoot two or
three men, don't let that stand in your way--charge 'em up to me. But
you must catch that fellow; I want to string him up just to show the
balance of 'em that they can't fool with me."

As everything had been arranged to my hand I was soon going about the
camp and the town arrayed in jeans clothes and looking like anything
but a soldier. I had thought to surprise Whistling Jim, the negro, with
my garb, but, as it turned out, the surprise was mine, for that night,
when I went to see whether the horses had been properly groomed and
fed, I found the door of the stable unlocked. I was not only surprised
but irritated. Both Harry Herndon and myself had tried hard to impress
the negro with the necessity of taking unusual precautions to secure
the safety of the horses, for they had attracted the attention of the
whole camp, which was full of questionable characters, some of whom
would have answered to their names if Falstaff had appeared to call the
roll of his ragamuffins.

The key had been turned in the lock, but the bolt of the lock had
failed to catch in the socket. It was plain that the negro thought he
had locked the door, but it was quite as plain that he had been
careless, and I made a resolution then and there to look after the
safety of the horses myself. I swallowed more than half of my
irritation when I found that the horses were in their stalls, warmly
blanketed, and an abundance of food before them. I was on the point of
locking the door with my own key, when I heard the sound of approaching
footsteps. There were two men, civilians, as I judged, and one of them
stuttered. Their conversation was of a nature to interest me.

They paused near the door of the stable. "This is the place where they
keep them," remarked one of the men. "They are the finest horses in the
rebel army, and it would be a good job to run them into the Union lines
some fine night. I know a man that would pay a cracking good price for
them."

"But the nigger sleeps in there with 'em," said the other man, "and
what are you going to do about him?"

"That's as easy as picking up rocks in the road. A nigger will sell his
immortal soul for ten dollars, and I'll git him to leave the door open
some night when he's got a job of jiggering on the peanner and
whistling with his mouth at the tavern in the woods."

"But that's horse-stealing."

"No, it ain't; it's turn and turn about. How many horses has old
Forrest took from the loyal citizens of Tennessee? You couldn't count
'em if you was to try. I'll give you three hundred dollars for them
three horses delivered at my brother's house--three hundred dollars in
gold--and you'll have two men to help you. Don't you call that picking
up money?"

"An' whilst I'm a-gittin' the horses, what'll you be doing?"

"Ain't I told you?" answered the man with some display of irritation.
"I'll be putting up the money, the cold cash. What more do you want?
I've always heard that good money is good enough for anybody."

They passed on, and I slipped from the stable, taking care to lock it
behind me, and followed them.



V


I have never spent a more disagreeable hour than that which passed
while I was engaged in following the two men for the purpose of
identifying them. The weather was cold and the night dark, and there
were peppery little showers of sleet. The two left the town proper and
turned into a by-way that I had travelled many times in my rambles in
the countryside. I knew that it led to a house that had been built for
a suburban home, but now, in the crowded condition of the town, was
used as a tavern. It had attracted the suspicion of General Forrest and
I knew that he had placed it under the surveillance of the
Independents. It was a very orderly public-house, however, and nothing
had ever occurred there to justify the suspicions of the General.

The two men I followed could have reached their destination in less
than twenty minutes if they had gone forward with the briskness that
the weather justified; but there was an argument of some kind between
them--I judged that the stuttering man had no stomach for the part he
was to play as a horse-thief. At any rate, there was a dispute of some
kind, and they stopped on the road at least half a dozen times to have
it out. One point settled, another would arise before they had gone
far, and then they would stop again; and at last, so dark did the wood
become, and so low their conversation grew, that I passed within three
feet of them and never knew it until it was too late to betray the
astonishment I naturally felt.

I simply jogged along the path and pretended that I had not seen them.
I went along briskly, and in a few minutes came to the tavern. The door
was shut, the weather being cold, but I knew by the lights shining
through the windows that a hospitable fire was burning on the hearth.
There was no need to knock at the door. I heard the jangling piano
playing an accompaniment to the flute-like whistling of Harry Herndon's
negro. Remembering his carelessness, I felt like going into the tavern
and giving him a frailing. The inclination was so strong that I held my
hand on the door-knob until the first flush of anger had subsided. It
was a very fortunate thing for me, as it turned out, that Whistling Jim
was present, but at the moment the turn of a hair would have caused me
to justify much that the people of the North have said in regard to the
cruelty of Southerners to the negro.

The guests and visitors--and there were quite a number--made room for
me at the fire, the landlord provided me with a chair and welcomed me
very heartily, taking it for granted that I was from the country and
would want a bed for the night. On the wide hearth a very cheerful fire
burned, and the place reminded me somehow of home--particularly a big
rocking-chair in which one of the guests was seated. It had an
upholstered seat and back, and the high arms were made more comfortable
by a covering of the same material. It was a fac-simile of a chair that
we had at home, and I longed to occupy it, if only for the sake of old
times.

Among those who were taking their ease at this suburban inn was Jasper
Goodrum, one of my comrades. He was a noted scout as well as a seasoned
soldier. He looked at me hard as I entered, and continued to watch me
furtively for some time, and then his face cleared up and I knew that
he had recognized me. He was in civilian's clothes, and I knew by that
that he did not care to be recognized. So I turned my attention
elsewhere. But in a little while he seemed to have changed his mind,
and, suddenly rising from his chair, came to me with outstretched hand.

It was a mixed company around the fire. There was a big Irishman, who
leaned calmly back in a small chair and smoked a short pipe. More than
once I caught his bright eyes studying my face, but his smile was ample
apology for his seeming rudeness. He was as handsome a man as I had
ever seen, and if I had been searching for a friend on whom to depend
in an emergency I should have selected him out of a thousand.

There was a short-haired man who was built like a prize-fighter. He
wore a sarcastic smile on his face, and his shifty eyes seemed to be
constantly looking for a resting-place. He had a thick neck and jaw
like a bull-dog. I marked him down in my mental note-book as dangerous.
There was a tall and pious-looking man, and two or three civilians who
had no particular points about them; and then there was a burly man,
who sat with his hands in his pockets and did nothing but chew tobacco
and gaze in the fire, uttering not one word until some of the company
fell to discussing Captain Leroy, the famous Union scout. When Leroy's
name was mentioned the burly man was quick to join in the conversation.

"There ain't a word of truth in all this stuff you hear about Leroy,"
he said, and his manner was more emphatic than the occasion seemed to
demand. "He's in the newspapers, and he ain't anywhere else on top of
the ground. I know what I'm a-talking about. Leroy is the invention of
Franc Paul, of the Chattanooga _Rebel_. He as good as told me so. He
said that when he wanted to stir up talk and create a sensation he had
something written about this Captain Frank Leroy. He's a paper man and
he's able to do anything the newspapers want done."

"You talk like you had gray hair," said the man that looked like a
prize-fighter; "but you're givin' away a mighty big secret. What are
you doin' it for? Say!"

"Oh, because I'm tired of all this talk about a man that doesn't live
outside of the mind of a newspaper man."

The big Irishman, who had been smoking and watching me with a shrewd
smile hovering about his mouth, began to chuckle audibly. He kept it up
so long that it attracted the attention of the company.

"What tickles you, my friend?" the burly man asked.

"Maybe ye know Franc Paul?" he inquired. His countenance was an
interrogation-point. The man answered somewhat sullenly in the
affirmative. "Is there anny risimblance bechune him an' me?"

"Not the slightest in the world," the man answered.

"Thin ye'd have a quarrel wit' his wife an' she'd have all the
advantages," said the Irishman with a laugh. "F'r no longer than the
last time I was at Chattanooga, Missus Paul says, 'It's a good thing,
Mr. O'Halloran,' she says, 'that ye're a hair's breadth taller than me
beloved husband,' she says, 'or I'd niver tell ye apart. Only the sharp
eyes av a wife or a mither,' she says, 'could pick out me husband if he
stood be your side,' she says."

"I must say," remarked the pious-looking man, "that you gentlemen were
never more mistaken in your lives when you hint that there is no such
person as Frank Leroy. I knew him when he was a boy--a beardless boy,
as you may say. In fact, his father was my next-door neighbor in
Knoxville, and I used to see Frank reading old Brownlow's paper."

"Don't think ut!" replied the Irishman, and with that all joined in the
conversation and I heard more of the perilous adventures and
hair-breadth escapes of Captain Frank Leroy than you could put in a
book. It seemed that his identity was a mystery, but he was none the
less a hero in men's minds because his very existence had been called
in question; for people will hug delusions to their bosoms in the face
of religion itself, as we all know.

The door of an inner room was open, and I could hear a conversation
going on. One of the participants was the stuttering man, whose voice I
had heard before the stable-door, and at a moment when I thought that
my movements would attract no attention I took advantage of the freedom
of a public-house and sauntered aimlessly into the room as if I had no
particular business there. I saw with surprise that the chap who had
proposed to steal the horses was one of the merchants of the town at
whose store I had occasionally traded. In the far end of the room,
reading a newspaper by the light of a small fire, sat a slip of a
youth. He wore a military cloak that covered his figure from his neck
to his top-boots.

I saw that he was not so absorbed in the paper that he failed to make a
note of my presence in the room, and he shifted himself around in his
chair so that he could get a better view of me, and still leave his
face in the shadow. Near him sat a motherly-looking woman of fifty. She
was well preserved for her age, and wore a smile on her face that was
good to look at. The youngster said something to her in a low tone, and
she immediately turned her attention to me. Some other words passed
between the two, and then the woman beckoned to me. I obeyed the
summons with alacrity, for I liked her face.

"You seem to be lonely," she said. "Have a seat by our little fire.
This is not a guest-room, but we have been so overrun lately that we
have had to turn it over to the public." She paused a moment and then
went on. "You are over-young to be in the army," she suggested.

She had turned so that she looked me full in the face, and there was a
kindly, nay, a generous light in her eyes, and I could no more have
lied to her in the matter than I could have lied to my own mother if
she had been alive. "I do not have a very hard time in the army," I
replied.

"No, I suppose not," she remarked. "You are one to make friends
wherever you go. Few are so fortunate; I have known only one or two."

There was a note of sadness in her tones that touched me profoundly.
The cause I can't explain, and the effect was beyond description. I
hesitated before making any reply, and when I did I tried to turn it
off lightly. "I never saw but one," I answered, "on whom I desired to
make an impression."

"And who was that?" the woman inquired with a bright smile of sympathy.

"You will think it a piece of foolishness," I replied; "but it was a
lady riding in a top-buggy. I had never seen her before and never
expect to see her again."

The youngster clutched his paper in his hand and turned in his chair.
"The light is detestable," he said. "Please throw on a piece of pine,
mother."

"You can't read by such a light," the woman replied. "Put your paper in
your pocket and read it to-morrow." Then she turned to me. "If you are
in the army," she said, "why do you wear such clothes? They are not
becoming at all." She had such a kindly smile and betrayed such a
friendly interest that it was not in human nature to suspect her--at
least, it was not in my nature to do so.

"Why, mainly for comfort," I answered; "and while I am wearing them I
am having my uniform, such as it is, furbished up and cleaned a bit. I
have a few days' leave, and I am taking advantage of it in this way."

"I wish my son here would take advantage of his short furlough to wear
the clothes he used to wear," she remarked, and her tone was so
significant that I could but regard her with a look of inquiry. I
suppose the puzzled expression of my face must have amused her, for she
laughed heartily, while the son, as if resenting his mother's words,
arose and swaggered to the other end of the room.

We had more conversation, and then I returned to the public room. Some
of the guests had retired, but their places had been taken by others,
and there was a goodly company gathered around the fire. I found the
big arm-chair unoccupied, and, seating myself on its comfortable
cushion, soon forgot the wonder I had felt that the woman in the next
room had known me for a soldier. I had accomplished one thing--the
identification of the prospective horse-thief--and I satisfied myself
with that. As for Leroy, I knew I should have to trust to some stroke
of good fortune.

The comfort of the rocker appealed to me, and, with my hands on its
arms, I leaned back and, in spite of the talking all around me, was
soon lost in reflection. Through long usage the upholstering on the
arms of the chair had become worn, and in places the tufts of moss or
horse-hair were showing. I fell to fingering these with the same
impulse of thoughtlessness that induces people to bite their
finger-nails. Suddenly I felt my finger in contact with a small roll of
paper that had been carefully pushed under the leather, and then I
remembered that the last occupant of the chair was the short-haired
man--the man who had the general appearance of a prize-fighter.

Now, it had occurred to me in a dim way that this man might be
identical with Leroy, and I suspected that he had left in the chair a
communication for some of his accomplices. I determined to transfer the
roll of paper to my pocket and examine it at my leisure. But no sooner
had I come to this determination than I imagined that every person in
the room had his eyes fixed on me. And then the problem, if you can
call it so, was solved for me.

A stranger who had evidently arrived while I was in the next room
appeared to be regarding Whistling Jim with some curiosity, and
presently spoke to him, inquiring if he was the negro that played on
the piano. Whistler replied that he could "sorter" play. "If you are
Whistling Jim," I said, "play us a plantation tune. I heard a man say
the other day that the finest tune he ever heard was one you played for
him. It was something about 'My gal's sweet.'"

The negro looked at me hard, but something in my countenance must have
conveyed a warning to him. "I 'member de man, suh; he say he wuz fum
Cincinnati, an' he gun me a fi'-dollar bill--a green one."

Without more ado, he went to the piano and plunged into the
heart-breaking melody of--

    "_Yo' gal's a neat gal, but my gal's sweet--
      Sweet-a-little, sweet-a-little, sweet, sweet, sweet!
    Fum de crown er her head ter de soles er her feet--
      Feet-a-little, feet-a-little, feet, feet, feet!_"

Naturally all eyes were turned on the performer, and I took advantage
of that fact to rise from the rocking-chair with the roll of paper safe
in my pocket, and saunter across the room in the direction of the
piano. Leaning against a corner of the ramshackle old instrument, I
drank in the melody with a new sense of its wild and melancholy beauty.
The room in which I stood seemed transformed into what it never could
be, and the old piano shed its discord and was glorified by the
marvellous playing of the negro.

The foolish little song runs along for several stanzas, simulating the
sound of dancing feet. Alternately the negro sang the air and whistled
the chorus, but whether he did one or the other, the effect was the
same. The silly song struck the home note and sent it vibrating through
my brain so invitingly that I was almost sorry that Whistling Jim had
played it.

I returned to earth when he ceased playing. He looked hard at me when
he had finished, but I did not glance at him. At the other end of the
piano, leaning against it, and apparently lost in thought, was the
young fellow I had seen in the other room. His cloak was thrown back
from his throat, and the red lining gave a picturesque touch to his
small, lithe figure. His face was partly in the shadow, but I could see
that his expression was one of profound melancholy. He aroused himself
at last, and, looking toward me, said with a smile that had no heart in
it, "If all the negroes in the South are so gifted you must have a
happy time down there."

"So it would seem," I answered, "but this negro is an exception. He
tells me that he learned to play while his old mistress was away from
home looking after her plantation interests. He can whistle better than
he can play."

"He has great gifts," said the lad, "and I trust he is treated
accordingly; but I doubt it," and with that he turned away from the
piano with a snap of thumb and finger that sounded for all the world
like a challenge. He turned and went swaggering across the room, and
seated himself in the rocking-chair of which I have spoken. In a word,
and with a snap of the finger, he had thrown mud at the whole South,
and with no more excuse than I should have had had I made an attack on
the North. Yet curiosity, and not irritation, was uppermost in my mind.

His conduct was so puzzling that I determined to have another taste of
it if possible, and so discover what he would be at. So I went back to
the fire and took a seat close to his elbow, while Whistling Jim passed
around his hat, as was his custom when he played for company. He held
it out to all except the young fellow and myself, and then returned to
the piano and played for his own amusement, but so softly that
conversation could flow on undisturbed.

I had a good look at the lad, and liked him all the better. His face
had in it that indescribable quality--a touch of suffering or of
sorrow--that always draws me, and I thought how strange it was that he
should sit there ignorant of the fact that a word or two would make me
his friend for life. I had a great pity for him, and there arose in me
the belief that I had met him before, but whether in reality or only in
a dream I could not make out. It was a foolish and a romantic notion,
but it nibbled around my mind so persistently that I turned my gaze on
the fire and fell into reflections that were both teasing and pleasing.

While thus engaged I suddenly became aware of the fact that the young
fellow was fingering at the worn place on the chair-arm. Conversation
was going on very briskly. The genial landlord, who had joined the
group at the fire, was relating to a listening and an eager guest
another story of the almost superhuman performances of the Union scout,
Leroy, when suddenly the lad arose from the rocker and began to search
the floor with his eyes. He had had the color of youth in his cheeks,
in spite of the swarthiness of his skin, and I had admired the
combination--your light-haired man is for everything that has a touch
of the brunette--but now he had gone white.

As he stooped to search under my chair, I jumped up and drew it back
politely. "Pardon me for disturbing you," he said; "I have lost a
paper."

"Is it of importance?" I inquired, endeavoring to show an interest in
the matter.

"You would hardly think so," he replied. "It involves the safety of a
woman." I regarded him with unfeigned astonishment, and he, in turn,
looked at me with a face as full of anger and disappointment as I had
ever beheld.

"Why, you young rascal!" I exclaimed; "what do you know of me that you
should speak so? For less than nothing I'll give you a strapping and
send you to your daddy."

"You couldn't do me a greater service. He is in heaven." You may
imagine my feelings, if you can, when, as he said this, he turned
toward me a countenance from which all feeling had died out save that
of sadness. If he had plunged a knife in my vitals he could not have
hurt me worse. "Well, sir," he insisted, "proceed with your strapping."

"You are more than even with me, my lad," I said, "and I humbly
apologize for my words. But why should you be so short with one who
certainly wishes you no harm?"

"I am unable to tell you. You seem to be always smiling, while I am in
trouble: perhaps that is why I am irritable." He looked at me hard as
he resumed his seat in the rocker, and again I had the curious feeling
that I had met him somewhere before--perhaps in some sphere of former
existence. Memory, however, refused to disgorge the details, and I
could only gaze helplessly into the fire.

After a little the lad hitched his chair closer to mine, and I could
have thanked him for that. He drew on his glove and drew it off again.
"Will you shake hands with me?" he inquired. "I feel that I am all to
blame." As I took his hand in mine I could but notice how small and
soft it was.

"No, you are not all to blame," I said. "I am ill-mannered by nature."

"I never will believe it," he declared with something like a smile.
"No, it is not so."

Before I could make any reply, in walked Jasper Goodrum, of the
Independents, and, following hard at his heels, was the man who had the
appearance of a prize-fighter. This last comer appeared to be in a
state of great excitement, and his brutal, overbearing nature was
clearly in evidence. He walked across the room to my lad--I was now
beginning to feel a proprietary interest in him--and seized him roughly
by the arm.

"Come 'ere!" he said, and his voice was thick with anger. "You've got
more'n you bargained for. Come into the next room; you better had! Say,
ain't you comin'?" He tried to pull the lad along, but the youngster
was not to be pulled.

"Don't touch me!" he exclaimed. "Don't you dare to put your hands on
me. You have lied to me, and that is enough!" The short-haired man was
almost beside himself with anger, and I could see that the lad would be
no match for him. He was not at all frightened, but when he turned his
eyes toward me, with a little smile, I saw the face of Jane Ryder, the
little lady I had seen in a top-buggy on her way to carry aid to Jack
Bledsoe. And instantly I was furious with a blind rage that stung me
like a thousand hornets.

I rose and slapped the ruffian on the shoulder in a way that would have
knocked an ordinary man down. "You dirty brute!" I cried, "say to me
what you have to say to the lad!"



VI


The man regarded me with an amazement that soon flamed up into anger.
His under-jaw stuck out ferociously, and the veins on his neck and
forehead were swollen with indignation. Before he could say anything
Jasper Goodrum intervened. "This is partly my affair," he said to the
short-haired man, "and you'd better leave this countryman alone."

"You're wrong," said the man; "it is not your affair. How can it be
when I don't know you?"

"Still," insisted Goodrum, "you'd better not bother the countryman.
You'll git yourself in trouble."

"Trouble!" he snorted. "Say! that's what I'm after. He's waded into the
creek and he can't git out without wettin' his feet." Then he turned to
me, his eyes full of venomous rage. "Say! what do you take me for?" He
came closer and stuck his ugly mug near my face.

My reply was made with an exceedingly willing mind. I struck him on the
jaw with my open hand and sent him reeling. He recovered his balance
almost instantly and made at me with a roar of rage and pain, but he
never reached me, for Whistling Jim ran into him head down like a bull.
The result was a collision that put the man out of business and knocked
all the fight out of him. He lay on the floor and rolled about in an
agony of pain, and the negro stood over him, apparently waiting for a
fitting opportunity to put in the finishing touch, but his hard head
had done the work for the time being.

[Illustration: Whistling Jim ran into him head down like a bull.]

I judged that the ruffian had friends among the guests, but when I
turned to keep an eye on them the room was clear. Even the landlord had
retired. The lad was standing by my side, and my impression is that he
was holding me by the sleeve of my coat. I turned to him, and I was
more certain than ever that he was either Jane Ryder or her brother.
But it was only when she spoke again that I was sure--for not even a
twin brother could simulate that round and singularly mellow voice. "I
am afraid you have made matters somewhat hard for me," she said,
somewhat sadly, "and heaven knows that I have had trouble enough for
one night."

"Well, you will have no more trouble here, at any rate," I said.

"I'd feel easier if I were sure of that," she remarked.

"Be assured," I answered. "When I leave this house you will go with me.
I propose to take you to your friends, if you have any in the
neighborhood; otherwise you go with me. You shall not stay here for
that ruffian to abuse and misuse you."

"I'll go with you as far as the door if only to thank you for the
unnecessary protection you have given me. There are many things that
you do not understand."

"And many that I do," I replied as significantly as I dared. "I want no
thanks, and you shall not remain in this house to-night. That is
settled." She made a birdlike movement with her head and shoulders,
looked me up and down, and smiled, but she saw that I was in earnest,
and the smile left her face.

"Where shall I go?" she asked.

"Anywhere but here," I answered. "Anywhere away from that," I pointed
to the man on the floor. He had raised himself to a sitting posture,
and was rocking himself to and fro with his arms hugging his knees,
apparently in great pain.

"He is not always as you see him to-night," she insisted. Then she
turned to me impulsively, "I'll go with you; I know a house where I
have very dear friends. But I must tell my friend here good-night--the
lady you spoke with." She ran into the inner room, and then I heard her
going lightly upstairs. She came down in a moment with color in her
face and with some agitation in her manner. She seized me by the sleeve
in a way that no man would have thought of, exclaiming, "Let us go at
once--come!" Her sudden anxiety to be off took me entirely by surprise.

"You have a horse?" I said, hearing the jingling of her spurs. But she
declared that her horse was well enough off where he was. "Come!" she
said; "let us be off!"

"With all my heart," I replied. I was so highly elated that I forgot
for the moment that I was dealing with a woman, and I threw my arm
lightly over her shoulder with a gesture of friendliness and
protection.

She threw it off and shrank from it as if it were a serpent. "What do
you mean?" she cried. Her face was red with anger, and her eyes were
blazing with scorn. "Don't dare to touch me!" For an instant I knew not
what to do or say, and then it suddenly occurred to me that it would be
well to hide from her the fact that I knew who she was and so I made a
great pretence of anger. I seized her by the arm. "If you give me
another word of your impertinence I'll carry out my threat of half an
hour ago."

All the anger died out of her eyes. "You hurt me," she said almost in a
whisper. "Oh, pray pardon me; I have travelled far to-day, and I am
weak and nervous. Why did you come here to-night? But for you----" she
paused and glanced up into my face, and placed her hand on mine. And
then I would have known if I had not known before that she was no other
than Jane Ryder, the little lady of the top-buggy. I looked in her
eyes, and they fell; in her face, and it was covered with blushes; and
somehow I was happier than I had been in many a long day.

"Come!" said I with some sternness, and held out my hand to her.
Instinctively she seized it and clung to it as we went out into the
night, followed by Whistling Jim.

"I have a friend who lives farther up the road," she said. "It is not
far, but perhaps it is farther than you care to come--and you have no
overcoat." I was not thinking of what she was saying, but of the warm
little hand that nestled so confidingly in mine. I knew then, or
thought I knew, that this little hand so soft and white, nestling in my
big paw like a young bird under its mother's wing, had the power to
make or mar my life. But, as is ever the way with birdlike things, the
hand slipped from its nest and left it empty.

She was worrying about the ruffian we had left on the floor. "The
trouble with him," I said, "is that he is selling information to both
sides. He is an impostor. I think he is the scout they call Leroy."
Whereupon she gave utterance to a laugh so merry that it sounded out of
place in the gloomy woods. It brought Whistling Jim alongside to see
what the trouble was. He said he thought the young master was crying.
She laughed again, and then suddenly paused.

"We are very near the house," she said, "and all who live there are my
friends. I shall be perfectly safe there. You have been very kind to
me--kinder than you know. We have both seen each other at our very
worst. Should we meet again, I hope we shall appear to better
advantage."

She had entirely recovered her self-possession, but in doing so she
forgot the part she was playing, forgot that she was arrayed in the
toggery of a man, and was now altogether a woman. I do not remember all
that was said, but I tried as hard as I could to conceal from her the
fact that I had discovered her sex and her identity; I had not the
least desire to humiliate her by airing my penetration. She stood
silent for a while, as if in thought, or perhaps she was waiting for me
to say farewell.

"You will do well to go in," I said. "The night is cold and damp."

"The cold and the damp are nothing to me," she replied. "I am warm
enough. You were speaking a while ago of Frank Leroy. Don't forget that
he is the best friend I have in the world except my mother.
Good-night!" She held out her hand, and again it nestled, white and
soft and warm, in my great paw, and stayed there a moment. The little
hand must have been frightened, for it fluttered slightly and then flew
back to its mistress.

I said good-night, but it was not a very gracious farewell, I am
afraid. "I knew I had something to say to you," she remarked. "In the
house there is a young Federal officer who was wounded some time ago.
He has been in a very bad way, but he is better now. While he was at
the worst of his illness he was constantly calling the names of some
friends he has among the rebels. One of them he seems to be specially
fond of--he calls him Harry Herndon. The other he calls Carroll
Shannon. It may be that you know them."

"I am acquainted with Herndon," I replied. "Shannon I have never met,
and I have no desire to meet him."

She was silent a moment, and then went on: "I thought that if the two
would take the trouble to call on the wounded man it would do him
good--though I am astonished that he should desire to see rebels and
traitors. I hate them all without exception, and the more I see of them
the more I hate them."

The little lady had worked herself into a grand fury against the
rebels, and I am sure she believed what she said for the moment. "I
shall take pleasure in informing Herndon that his friend is here," said
I. "Shannon, as I have told you, I never met."

"You are fortunate," she replied. "I met him once, and it needed only a
glance to tell me what he was."

"And what was he?" I inquired.

"The matter is not worth speaking of," she said. "I have just as much
contempt for him as you have. Good-night!" and once more the little
fluttering hand touched mine, and away she marched into the darkness.
At the steps she turned and listened, but, as neither Whistling Jim nor
I had stirred out of our tracks, she could hear nothing. "Why don't you
go?" she called.

"I want to see you safe in the house," I said.

"You are taking a deal of responsibility on yourself," she responded.
"You must think me a child or a woman." With that she slipped through
the door, which yielded to her touch, and disappeared in the house.



VII


Now, when the foolish girl disappeared behind the door, I turned away
from the gate full of anger at all mundane things. But the only human
being near at hand was Whistling Jim, and him I seized by the collar.

"You scoundrel!" I exclaimed, shaking him vigorously; "what do you mean
by going off and leaving the stable-door unlocked?"

"Mar--Marse Cal--Cally--lem--lemme tell you 'bout it!" he cried,
affrighted; and then, ashamed of my silly display of temper, I turned
him loose. "What make you so fractious ter-night, Marse Cally? A little
mo' an' you'd 'a' shuck my head off. I declar' ter gracious, Marse
Cally, I thought I locked dat stable-door. I know I turned de key--dey
ain't no two ways 'bout dat. I tuck de key out'n de lock when I went
in, an' put it back in de lock when I come out--I put it in de lock an'
turned it des like I allers do."

"But what you didn't do," said I, now angry with myself, "was to make
sure that the bolt of the lock had caught. It didn't catch, and when I
went there to-night the door yielded to my hand. It was a piece of pure
carelessness, and if you ever do the like again----"

"Don't talk dat way, Marse Cally; you sho is been mighty good ter me,
an' I don't want ter make you mad. I never is ter do dat trick ag'in."

Then I told him that there was a plot on foot to steal the horses, and
advised him as to the identity of the two men. He knew them
both--especially did he know the prominent citizen, who, on various
occasions, had invited him into the store and made him presents of pipe
and tobacco, and had even hinted to him that he could find a good job
for him when he grew tired of working for nothing. He had also given
him whiskey, which was a contraband article in the recruiting camp.

We walked along very friendly, for I was ashamed of myself for giving
way to my temper. When the negro thought I was in a sufficiently good
humor, he endeavored to ease his own curiosity on a matter that had
evidently been worrying him. "Marse Cally," he said, "who wuz dat
little chap we tuck home des now?"

"I don't know his name. Why do you ask?"

"Kaze he look so funny an' done so funny. He ain't look like no man ter
me."

"Why, of course not; he is little more than a boy; that's the reason I
made him come out of that house."

"He moughter been a boy," remarked Whistling Jim, after taking some
time to think the matter over. "He wuz right knock-kneed, an' when he
walked he walked des like de flo' wuz burnin' his foots."

I could only pretend to laugh, but I wondered at the negro's keep
observation. Seeing that I made no reply, he went on: "You know what I
think, Marse Cally? Dat uppity li'l chap is des ez much a man ez you is
a 'oman."

"Well, it may be so," I replied. "He is nothing to me."

Whistling Jim laughed one of his irritating laughs. "Dat's so, suh, but
I tuck notice dat you helt han's wid 'im a mighty long time."

This was intolerable, and I remarked with some severity that I proposed
to make it my special business to inform Harry Herndon how his negro
had neglected his duty. "Now, don't do dat, Marse Cally, please, suh!
You know mighty well dat Marse Harry can't keep his temper like you
does. I dunner when you been ez fractious ez you is ter-night."

"You are the cause of it," I declared, "you and no one else. First you
leave the stable-door unlocked, and then you say that this young fellow
is neither man nor boy."

"Did I say dat, Marse Cally?" exclaimed Whistling Jim, apparently
almost as much amazed as if I had drawn a pistol on him. He stood a
moment, as if trying to remember the circumstances under which the
remark had been made, but he shook his head sadly. "Ef I said dat,
Marse Cally, I must 'a' been dreamin'; I wuz mighty nigh fast asleep
when we started back des now, an' ef you'd 'a' lissened right close I
speck you'd 'a' hearn me a sno'in'. Ef you say I said it, den I reckon
I must 'a' said it, but I wan't at myse'f, kaze ef dey ever wuz a grown
man on top er de groun', dat chap is one."

"You are sharper than I thought you were," I remarked.

"You must be makin' fun er me, Marse Cally, kaze dey ain't nothin'
sharp 'bout knowin' a man fum a 'oman. Ef I didn't know de diffunce I'd
turn myse'f out ter graze wid de dry cattle, an' stay wid um all thoo
de season."

"Now, that's the way to talk," said I with some heartiness; "but if I
ever find the stable-door unlocked again I'll take it for granted that
you have changed your opinion about our young friend."

"I may leave de stable-door onlocked time an' time ag'in," remarked
Whistling Jim solemnly, "but I never is ter b'lieve dat dat boy is
anything but a man."

I made haste to inform Harry Herndon that Jack Bledsoe was in the
neighborhood, and, as was perfectly natural, he was keen to see him,
less for Jack's sake, I imagine, though he loved the young fellow well,
than for the sake of having some news of the fair Katherine. As the
heaviest part of his work at headquarters was over, and as pretty much
everything had depended on the reply to General Forrest's requisition
on his superior officer--who, unfortunately, chanced to be General
Bragg--for arms and ammunition, Harry had no difficulty in securing
leave of absence for the day; and so, when all the arrangements had
been made, we set out the next evening for the house where Jack Bledsoe
lay.

On the way, I suggested that perhaps Jack's mother and the fair cousin
would probably be found there; and this possibility was in Harry's mind
also, for he leaned from his horse toward me and extended his hand,
uttering not a word. I gripped it with mine, and hoped that before I
died I should have the opportunity of shaking another hand as true. One
other I found--but only one.

Jack's mother met us at the door, and not far behind her was the fair
Katherine, more beautiful than ever. I saw at a glance that the ladies
were expecting us, for they were rigged out in their best, which was
not very bad, considering that they had been caught between the lines
with a wounded man on their hands. Another face that I had expected to
see was not in evidence, and whatever enthusiasm I may have felt in the
beginning soon died away, and I was sorry that I had been foolish
enough to accompany Harry.

We were taken at once to Jack's room, and it was very evident that he
was glad to see us again. He had changed a great deal; he looked older,
and appeared to be worn by illness. He had been removed from the cabin
on the river at a critical period, and, as a result, he was compelled
to go through a long and drastic illness. He was on the high road to
recovery, but I thought he would never be the same handsome Jack again,
so cadaverous was his countenance and so changed his voice. The two
ladies and myself left the friends together and went into the room that
had been the parlor, where there was a brisk fire burning.

The house was a very commodious country home and had evidently been
built by some prosperous person whose heart and mind turned to the
country after he had acquired wealth in the town. But the owner had
deserted it when the Federals took possession of Murfreesborough,
leaving furniture and everything to the mercy of circumstance--the
cruel circumstance that goes hand in hand with war. But everything was
intact. The old piano stood in the corner as glossy as if it had been
newly bought, and the carpets on the floor wore a clean look, though
some of them were threadbare.

After a while, Harry came in search of Kate--she was more important
than his wounded friend--and Mrs. Bledsoe went to take her place by
Jack's bedside. This arrangement would have left me very much alone,
but for the thoughtfulness of Kate, who intimated that I should find
very interesting company in the next room. "Don't be afraid," she said.
But I was very much afraid, I know not why, and hesitated a long time
before I ventured into the room.

And when I did venture to wander in casually, I was more afraid than
ever, for at a window a small lady sat reading. I knew her at once for
Jane Ryder, but that fact made me no bolder. On the contrary, I felt a
timidity that was almost childish; it was a feeling that carried me
away back to my boyhood, when I refused to go into a room where there
was a company of little girls.

"I beg your pardon," said I, and began to back toward the door.

"Oh, no harm is done," the lady declared, closing the book, but keeping
the place with her fore-finger. "Did you desire to see me? Or perhaps
you would see Miss Bledsoe?"

"No, ma'am--I--that is, Miss Bledsoe is talking with a friend of mine,
and I just wandered in here, having nothing else to do."

"To be sure! I believe that is a custom of Southern gentlemen."

"What is?" I asked, rather abruptly.

"Why, to go to houses and wander from room to room until their
curiosity is satisfied."

I was angry, though I knew that she meant not a word she said. "Does
Mrs. Bledsoe indulge in that habit?" I asked.

"Habit? I said custom. Mrs. Bledsoe is a changed woman since she has
lived among people who know something of the world and its ways, and
who are not slave-drivers."

"I believe this is Miss Jane Ryder," I said.

"Your memory is better than your manners," she replied, and though I
tried hard to keep my temper, her words stung me to the quick.

"I assure you I had not the least desire to disturb you. I came in here
with the hope, though not the expectation, of finding a lad who came
here last night."

"He is not here," she asserted, "and if he were, he has no desire to
see you. He told me something of his encounter with you, and if that is
the way you treat a young lad, I wonder how you would have treated an
unprotected woman."

I would not trust myself to speak to her. I made her a low obeisance
and retired from the room; but I was not to escape so easily. She
pursued her advantage; she followed me out into the hall. "Is it true
that the young man compelled you to accompany him to this house last
night?"

"If he told you so, madam, it is true," I replied.

"After threatening to give you a strapping?" she asked. Her mood was
almost exultant, though she had been gloomy enough when I first
disturbed her.

"If he says so, madam."

"He didn't say so, but I believe he slapped your face, for it is still
red."

"Perhaps he did, madam."

"I am no madam, I'll let you know; why do you call me so?"

"It is simply a term of respect, ma'am. Our young people are taught to
be respectful to ladies."

"You may be sure that the young man would have remained to see you, but
I was afraid you'd run away and leave your friend." Women can be very
childish sometimes, and this was pure childishness.

"Why, I had no idea that he bore me any ill-will," I remarked. "He
trotted along by my side in perfect good-humor when I was fetching him
home. If he has any grudge against me, I do not think the fault is
mine. Say to him that I apologize most humbly for any offence I may
have given him." Jane Ryder was now sure that I did not connect her
with the lad--was sure that I had not pierced her disguise, and she
became at once very much friendlier. Her relief was apparent in voice
and gesture.

"The truth is," she went on, "the young man is very fond of you, much
to my surprise. It is a strange fancy," she mused; "there is no
accounting for it. I believe you could prevail on him to leave his
friends and go with you to the South; that is why I am keeping him away
from you."

"I have had few friends," I said, "and if you could add the young man
to the list and place him above all the rest, I should be happy. But as
for persuading him to desert his principles, I should never think of
it; and I should think ill of him if he could be persuaded."

"He really thinks that you are one of the finest men he ever met,"
pursued Jane Ryder. "He says that a young woman would be as safe from
insult with you as she would be with her mother."

"And why not?" I inquired. "I thank your friend for his good opinion of
me; but it is no great compliment to me to say that I should protect a
woman with my life, if need be. Back yonder there are gathered three or
four thousand men, and out of that four thousand you will not find ten
who would not do the same and think it nothing to boast of."

"I wouldn't trust them," she declared.

"Would you trust me?" I asked. The words were out of my mouth before I
could recall them. They meant more than she would think or than she
would care for them to mean.

"I certainly would," she said, clenching her hands in a strange little
gesture.

"I thank you for saying that much," I declared. "The time may come--not
soon, perhaps--when I shall have to ask you to trust me."

"Soon or late," she replied, "my answer will be the same."

I never was more shaken with the excitement of temptation than at that
moment. She must have known it; they say women are quick at reading the
thoughts of a man, but, instead of drawing away from me, she drew
nearer. In another instant I should have seized her in my arms, the
pale and lonely creature, but just then the sound of footsteps came
along the hall, and I heard the happy laughter of Katherine Bledsoe. I
had raised my arms, but now I lowered them and she had seized my hand.

"Good-by!" she said, and as soon as she could tear her hand from mine
she was gone--gone by another door, and Harry and her companion came
plump upon me standing in the hallway, gazing at the door through which
Jane Ryder had disappeared. Then I turned and gazed at them, first at
one and then at the other.

"What have you done with her?" inquired Kate, with just a shade of
solicitude in her voice. "Oh, I hope you haven't hurt her," she cried.
"She has the tenderest heart in the world."

"Hurt her? Hurt her?" It was all that I could say, and then all of a
sudden I came to myself and stood there laughing very foolishly. "She
ran away," I explained. "I don't know why. I am sure I didn't want her
to go!"

Whereupon Kate fell to laughing, and kept it up until the tears came
into her eyes. "Oh, men are such simpletons!" she exclaimed; "I don't
know what I should do for amusement if I didn't see the lords of
creation once in a great while."

We bade good-by to the household--though Jane Ryder was nowhere to be
found--and went to our horses, which we had left in charge of Whistling
Jim. That worthy was in quite a flutter. He had heard strange noises,
and he was almost sure that he had caught a glimpse of more than one
man in the darkness. We paid little enough attention to what he said,
for we knew that the ladies were safe so far as the Confederates were
concerned, and Jack Bledsoe would answer for their safety with the
Federals.

Nevertheless, there was no one to answer for our safety, and we had no
more than mounted our horses before we discovered that we were
surrounded. We heard the tramp of cavalry on all sides. A quiet voice
in the darkness made itself heard: "Don't shoot unless they resist!"

"Ride them down!" exclaimed Harry. My horse ran full into another
horse, and he and his rider went down just as I used my pistol. Some
one with an oath whacked me over the head with a sabre, my horse
stumbled in the darkness, and down I went into chaos. I thought I heard
someone singing, and then it seemed as if there was a free concert in
progress, while I lay helpless in a great gully out of which I could
not climb.



VIII


Making a great effort to climb from the gully into which I had fallen,
my foot slipped, and I fell again, and continued to fall till I knew no
more. When I came to life again I was not in a gully at all, but
stretched out on a bed, with my boots on, and this fact fretted me to
such an extent that I threw back the covering and rose to a sitting
posture. My head was throbbing somewhat wildly, and I soon found that
the cause of the pain was a towel that had been too tightly bound
around my forehead. The towel changed into a bandage under my fingers,
and I found that I could not compass the intricacies of the fastenings.
I remembered that I had disposed safely of the papers I had found in
the chair-arm. One was a passport signed by one of the biggest men in
the country, authorizing Francis Leroy to pass in and out of the Union
lines at any time, day or night, and the other--there were but two--was
some useless information with respect to the movements of the Federal
forces between Murfreesborough and Memphis.

As I came more and more to my senses, I knew that these papers had been
the cause of my undoing; I could see in it, as plain as day, the hand
of Jane Ryder, and I was truly sorry. I thought I had been around the
world and back again, and I should have been very wise, but the bandage
and Jane Ryder were too much for me. How did she know that I had
secured the papers? And why did she permit the soldiers to attack me. I
was feeling very foolish and childish.

Then I observed that a large man was sitting in front of the small
fireplace, and his long legs were stretched completely across the
hearth. His head was thrown back, his mouth was open, and he was sound
asleep. There was half a handful of some kind of medicine in a saucer
on the table, and I judged that the man would be better off for a dose
of it. I suppose it was common table salt, but, whatever it was, the
notion remained with me that it would be a help to the man. It was a
fantastic notion, but it persisted, and finally I lifted the saucer,
emptied the medicine in my palm, and transferred it to the open mouth
of the man. It failed to arouse him; he merely closed his jaws on the
dose and slept on.

I enjoyed the man's discomfiture before it occurred; I knew what a
terrible splutter there would be when the stuff began to melt and run
down his windpipe. I should have laughed aloud, but the bandage was
hurting me terribly. With a vague hope of getting some relief from
pain, I opened the door as softly as I could, went out and closed it
behind me. Another door was open directly in front of me, and through
this I went. In the room a woman was sitting at a window, her head in
her hands. She looked up when she heard the slight noise I made, and I
was surprised to find myself face to face with Jane Ryder. Her eyes
were red and swollen with weeping, and her hands were all of a tremble.

"Will you please, ma'am, take this off?" I said, pointing to the
bandage.

She placed her finger on her lip. "Sh-sh!" she whispered, and then,
whipping around me, closed the door with no more noise than the wing of
a night-bird might make. "In there, and don't move on your life."

She pointed to a closet, but I shook my head.

"Not if I can help myself," I said. "I have just come out of a deep,
deep ditch, and I want to hear the splutter." I was whispering, too,
such was the woman's influence. She looked at me in amazement; she
tried to understand me; but she must have thought me out of my head,
for her lips were twitching pitifully and her hands trembling. "It's
the man in the next room," I whispered with a grin. "I put a handful of
medicine in his mouth. Wait! you'll hear him directly."

"Oh, I am so sorry for you," she cried, wringing her hands. "I am as
sorry for you as I am for myself."

"Then please take this bandage off and have my horse brought round."

"I can't! I can't! You're wounded. Go in the closet there."

"I'll go where you go, and I'll stay where you stay," I said; and I
must have been talking too loud, for she placed her hand on my
lips--and what should I do but hold it there and kiss it, the poor
little trembling hand!

And then there came from the next room the famous splutter for which I
had been waiting. The soldier made a noise as if he were drowning. He
gasped and coughed, and tried to catch his breath; he strangled and
lost it, and, when he caught it again, made a sound as if he had a
violent case of the whooping-cough. And all this time I was laughing
silently, and I came near strangling myself.

Jane Ryder was far from laughter. She was as cool as a cucumber. With
one quick movement, and with surprising strength, she had shoved me
into the closet. Then she flung the door wide open. As she did so the
guard cried out at the top of his voice that the prisoner had escaped.
And if ever a man was berated it was that big soldier who had fallen
asleep at the post of duty. "You drunken wretch!" she cried; "I knew
how it would be; I knew it!" He tried to make an explanation, but she
would not hear it. "Oh, I'll make you pay for this! Go--go and find
him, and if you fail take your cut-throats away from here and never let
me see them again. Report to my brother, and tell him how you carried
out your orders. You were to take them all without a struggle, but you
took only one, and you bring him here more dead than alive. He is
wandering about in the woods now, out of his head."

"But he shot one of my men. Haven't you any feeling for the man that'll
be cold and stiff by sun-up?"

"For the man, yes. You should have been the one to pay for your
blundering. You failed to carry out your orders, and you had a dozen
against three, and one of the three a negro."

The man started away, but his lagging footsteps showed that he had
something on his mind, and in a few moments I heard him coming back.
"'Tain't no use to hunt for the man in the dark, and by sun-up his
friends'll be buzzin' around here worse'n a nest of hornets. We are
going back--going back," he repeated, "and you may report what you
please."

Then the man went away, mumbling and mouthing to himself. As for me, I
should have preferred to go with him. Pretty much everything is fair in
war, and Jane Ryder was on the Union side. She knew of the ambuscade
and had not told me; it was her duty not to tell. She would have made
no sign if we had been going to our deaths. I have never felt more
depressed in my life than I did at that moment. Something had slipped
from under me, and I had nothing to stand on. I came out of the closet
both angry and sorry. "I shall be obliged to you if you will find my
hat," I said.

I tried hard to hide my real feelings, and with anyone else the effort
would have been successful; but she knew. She came and stood by me and
caught me by the arm. "Where would you go?" There was a baffled look in
her eyes, and her voice was uneasy.

"Call your man," I said; "I will go with him; it is not his fault that
he cannot find me; it is not his fault that I am hiding here in a
woman's closet. Nor shall he be punished for it."

"Your hat is not here," she declared. "It must be where you fell. Do
you know," she cried, "that you have killed a man? Do you know that?"
Her tone was almost triumphant.

"Well, what of that?" I asked. "You set them on us, and the poor fellow
took his chance with the rest. Gladly would I take his place." My head
was hurting and I was horribly depressed.

She had turned away from me, but now she flashed around with surprising
quickness. "You are the cause of it all--yes, you! And, oh, if I could
tell you how I hate you! If I could only show you what a contempt I
have for you!" She was almost beside herself with anger, passion--I
know not what. She shrank back from me, drew in a long breath, and fell
upon the floor as if a gust of wind had blown her over; and then I
began to have a dim conception of the power that moved and breathed in
the personality of this woman. She fell, gave a long, shivering sigh,
and, to all appearance, lay before me dead.

In an instant I was wild with remorse and grief. I seized a chair and
sent it crashing into the hallway to attract attention. To this noise I
added my voice, and yelled for help with lungs that had aroused the
echoes on many a hunting-field. There were whisperings below, and
apparently a hurried consultation, and then a young woman came mincing
up the stairs. I must have presented a strange and terrifying spectacle
with my head bandaged and my wild manner, for the woman, with a shriek,
turned and ran down the stairs again. I cried again for someone to come
to the aid of the lady, and presently someone called up the stairs to
know what the trouble was.

[Illustration: I was wild with remorse and grief.]

"Come and see," I cried. "The lady has fainted, and she may be dead."

I went into the room again, and, taking Jane Ryder in my arms, carried
her into the next room and laid her on the bed. There was a pitcher of
water handy, and I sprinkled her face and began to chafe her cold
hands. After what seemed an age, the landlord came cautiously along the
hall. "Call the woman," I commanded; "call the woman, and tell her to
come in a hurry."

This he did, and then peeped in the room, taking care not to come
inside the door. "What is the matter?" he said uneasily.

"Can't you see that the lady is ill?" I answered.

The woman--two women, indeed--came running in response to his summons.
"Go in there and see what the trouble is. See if he has killed her. I
told her he was dangerous. You shall pay for this," he said, shaking a
threatening hand at me, though he came no farther than the door. "You
think she has no friends and that you may use her as you please. But I
tell you she has friends, and you will have to answer to them."

"Why talk like a fool?" said the elder of the two women--the woman with
whom I had talked in the inner room of the tavern. "You know as well as
I do that this man has not hurt her. If it were some other man I'd
believe you. She has only fainted."

"But fainting is something new to her. He has hurt her, and he shall
pay for it," the man insisted.

"And I tell you," the woman repeated, "that he has not harmed a hair of
her head. If he had do you think I'd be standing here denying it? Don't
you know what I'd be doing?"

"If I am wrong I am quite ready to apologize. I was excited--was beside
myself."

"I want none of your apologies," I said to the man. "I have a crow to
pick with you, and I'll furnish a basket to hold the feathers."

"It is better to bear no malice," remarked the younger woman, calmly.
"The Bible will tell you so."

"It is better to tell me the cause of the trouble," interrupted her
elder.

"Why, I hardly know. I asked for my hat, and from one word to another
we went till she flamed out at me, and said she hated me, and had a
great contempt for me; and then she fell on the floor in a faint. I
thought she was dead, but when I laid her on the bed there I saw her
eyelids twitching."

The two women eyed each other in a way that displeased me greatly. "I
told you so," said one. "It's the world's wonder," replied the other.
And then Jane Ryder opened her eyes. It was natural that they should
fall on me. She closed them again with a little shiver and then the
natural color returned to her face. "I thought you were gone," she
whispered.

"Did you think I would go and leave you like this? Do you really think
I am a brute--that I have no feeling?" She closed her eyes again, as if
reflecting.

"But I told you I hated you. Didn't you hear me? Couldn't you
understand?"

"Perfectly," I replied. "I knew it before you told me; but, even so,
could I go and leave you as you were just now? Consider, madam. Put
yourself in my place--I who have never done you the slightest injury
under the blue sky----" I was going on at I know not what rate, but she
refused to listen.

"Oh, don't! don't! Oh, please go away!" she cried, holding her arms out
toward me in supplicating fashion. It was an appeal not to be resisted,
least of all by me. I looked at her--I gave her one glance, as the
elderly woman took me by the arm.

"Come with me," she said; "you shall have a hat, though I hardly think
it will fit you with the bandage round your head."

She led me downstairs, and, after some searching, she fished out a hat
from an old closet, and it did as well as another. She asked me many
questions as she searched. How long had I known the poor lady upstairs?
and where did I meet her? She would have made a famous cross-questioner.
I answered her with such frankness that she seemed to take a fancy to
me.

"Some say that the poor lady upstairs is demented," she volunteered.

"Whoever says so lies," I replied. "She has more sense than nine-tenths
of the people you meet."

"And then, again, some say she can mesmerize folks." Then, seeing that
the information failed to interest me, "What do you think of them--the
mesmerizers?"

"I think nothing of them. If they could mesmerize me, I should like to
see them do it."

"Oh, would you, you poor young man," she said, with a strange smile.
"How would you know that you were mesmerized, and how would you help
yourself?"

I know not what reply I made. A fit of dejection had seized me, and I
could think of nothing but Jane Ryder. "You mustn't think of that young
lady upstairs as hating you," said the woman, after she had brushed the
hat and had asked me if I felt strong enough to walk a mile or more.
"All she means is that she hates your principles. She hates secession,
and she hates Secessionists. But something has upset her of late; she
is not herself at all. I'm telling you the truth."

"She hates me; you may depend on that; but her hate makes no difference
to me. I love her, and I'd love her if she were to cut my throat."

"Is that true? Are you honest? May I tell her so some time--not
now--but some time when you are far away?"

"To what end?" I asked. "She would tear her hair out if she knew it;
she would never be happy again."

"You don't happen to love her well enough to join her side, do you?"
This question was put hesitatingly, and, as I thought, with some shy
hope that it would receive consideration.

"Madam, you have tried to be kind to me in your way, and therefore I
will say nothing to wound your feelings; but if a man were to ask me
that question he would receive an answer that would prevent him from
repeating it in this world."

"Humpty-dumpty jumped over the wall!" exclaimed the woman with a laugh.
"I knew what you'd say, but I had my reasons for asking the question;
you must go now; and bear in mind," she went on with a sudden display
of feeling, "that the war has made such devil's hags of the women, and
such devil's imps of the men, that everything is in a tangle. You'll
know where you are when you go in the next room. And you must forgive
me. I am Jane Ryder's mother."

And, sure enough, I was in the tavern in the woods, and sitting by the
hearth was Whistling Jim. To say that he was glad to see me would
hardly describe the outward manifestation of his feelings. Someone in
the camp, he didn't know who, had sent him word that he'd find me at
this house, and he had been waiting for more than an hour, the last
half of it with many misgivings. He and Harry had escaped without any
trouble, and my horse had followed them so closely that they thought I
was on his back. But when they saw that he was riderless, they thought
that I had either been captured or killed. Once at camp, Harry Herndon
drummed up as many of the Independents as would volunteer, and they had
gone in search of me; Whistling Jim heard them riding along the road as
he was coming to the tavern.

The faithful negro had a hundred questions to ask, but I answered him
in my own way. I was determined that none but those directly concerned
should ever know that I had been held a prisoner or that Miss Ryder had
a hand in the night's work; and I wished a thousand times over that I
had not known it myself. The old saying, worn to a frazzle with
repetition, came to me with new force, and I was sadly alive to the
fact that where ignorance is bliss 'tis folly to be wise.

The night was now far advanced, and once at my quarters I flung myself
on the rude bed that had been provided for me, and all the troubles and
tangles in this world dissolved and disappeared in dreamless slumber.
When morning broke I felt better. My head was sore, but the surgeon
removed the bandage, clipped the hair about the wound, took a stitch or
two that hurt worse than the original blow, and in an hour I had
forgotten the sabre-cut.

Singular uneasiness pervaded my thoughts. More than once I caught
myself standing still as if expecting to hear something. I tried in
vain to shake off the feeling, and at last I pretended to trace it to
feverishness resulting from the wound in the scalp; but I knew this was
not so--I knew that one of the great things of life was behind it all;
I knew that I had come to the hour that young men hope for and older
men dread; I knew that for good or evil my future was wrapped in the
mystery and tangle of which Jane Ryder was the centre. My common-sense
tried to picture her forth as the spider waiting in the centre of her
web for victims, but my heart resented this and told me that she
herself had been caught in the web and found it impossible to get away.

I wandered about the camp and through the town with a convalescent's
certificate in my pocket and the desperation of a lover in my heart;
and at the very last, when night was falling, it was Jasper Goodrum, of
the Independents, who gave me the news I had been looking for all day.

"You'd better pick up and go with us, Shannon; our company is going to
raid the tavern to-night, and to-morrow we take the road. Oh, you are
not hurt bad," he said, trying to interpret the expression on my face;
"you can go and I think I can promise you a little fun. They say a spy
is housed there, and we propose to smoke him out to-night. Get your
horse; we start in half an hour."

He went off down the street, leaving me staring at him open-mouthed.
When he was out of sight I turned and ran toward the camp as if my life
depended on it.



IX


I knew no more what I intended to do than the babe unborn. What I did
know was that Jane Ryder was in that house, in all probability; and
that fact stung me. She had aided me to escape, even though she had had
a hand in my capture, and I felt that the least I could do would be to
take her away from there, willingly if she could come, forcibly if she
hesitated.

On the way to the camp I met Whistling Jim, and he stopped me. He was
astride his horse and leading mine. "Dey er gwine on a ride now
terreckly, Marse Cally, an' I lowed maybe you'd want ter go 'long wid
um."

For answer I swung myself on my horse and, bidding the negro to follow
if he desired, put spurs to the sorrel and went flying in the direction
of the tavern. I did not turn my head to see whether Whistling Jim was
following, but rode straight ahead. It strikes me as curious, even yet,
that the darkness should have fallen so suddenly on that particular
day. When Goodrum spoke to me I supposed that the sun was still
shining; when I turned into the road that led to the house it was dark.
I reached the place in the course of a quarter of an hour, and as I
leaped from my horse I heard the negro coming close behind me. I waited
for him to come up and dismount, and then I bade him knock at the door,
and when it was opened I told him to stand by the horses.

The door was opened by the woman who had spoken so kindly with me. "You
here again?" she cried with an air of surprise. "You would make it very
hard for her if she were here, but I think she is gone. You'll not see
her again, my dear, and I, for one, am glad of it. There's no one here
but myself and my son."

"Your son is the one I want," I replied. "Tell him to come at once. I
have news for him." The woman had no need to call him, however, for the
inner door opened as I spoke, and out came Jane Ryder in the garb of a
man--cloak, boots, and all.

I had an idea that she would shrink from me or show some perturbation;
but I was never more mistaken in my life. In a perfectly easy and
natural manner--the manner of a young man--she came up and held out her
hand. "I think this is Mr. Shannon; Miss Ryder told me your name. I
have to thank you for some recent kindness to her."

I shook her hand very cordially, saying that nothing I could do for
Miss Ryder would be amiss. "As it happens," I went on, "I can do
something for you now. Will you come with me?"

For one fleeting moment her woman's hesitation held her, and then her
woman's curiosity prevailed. "With pleasure," she said.

As we started for the door the woman interfered. "I wouldn't go with
him," she declared with some bluntness. "You don't have to go and you
sha'n't. You don't know what he's up to."

This failed to have the effect I feared it would. "Don't you suppose I
can take care of myself, mother?"

"I know what I know," replied the woman, sullenly, "and it wouldn't
take much to make me tell it."

"Then, for heaven's sake, say what you have to say and be done with
it," I exclaimed. "Only a very few minutes lie between this person and
safety. If you have anything to tell out with it."

"Your blue eyes and baby face fooled me once, but they'll not fool me
again. You know more than you pretend to know," said the woman.

"I know this: if this person remains here ten minutes longer he will
regret it all the days of his life. Now, trust me or not, just as you
please. If he is afraid to come with me let him say so, and I will bid
him farewell forever and all who are connected with him. Do you trust
me?" I turned to Jane Ryder and held out my hand.

"I do," she replied. She came nearer, but did not take my hand.

"Then, in God's name, come with me!" I cried. She obeyed my gesture and
started for the door.

"Where are you going?" wailed the mother. "Tell me--tell me!"

I was sorry for her, but I made her no answer.

I anticipated this scene as little as I did the fact that Jane Ryder
would come with me. I was prepared to carry her off if she refused, but
I was ill prepared for the rumpus that this quiet-looking woman kicked
up. She followed us to the door and stood wailing while I tried to
persuade Jane Ryder to mount my horse. She hesitated, but I fairly
lifted her into the saddle. The stirrup-straps were too short, but that
made no difference. I sprang on the horse behind her, and, reaching
forward, seized the reins and turned the horse's head in a direction
that would bring us into the town by a detour, so that we should miss
the Independents, who would follow the road that I had followed in
coming.

"Where are you taking me?" inquired Jane Ryder.

"To safety," I replied. "The house is to be raided to-night, and I
decided to bring you away. You saved me from a prison, and now I
propose to save you."

"I saved you? You are mistaken; it was that foolish woman, Miss Ryder."

"Well, she said that you are her dearest friend, and I'm saving you to
please her."

"You needn't hold me so tight. I'm in no danger of falling off. Where
are you taking me?"

"To General Forrest." She caught her breath, and then did her utmost to
fling herself from the horse. When she found that her strength was not
equal to the task of removing my arms or lifting them so she could slip
from the saddle, she began to use her tongue, which has ever been
woman's safest weapon.

"You traitor!" she cried; "oh, you traitor! I wish I had died before I
ever saw you."

"But this is the safest course," I insisted. "You will see, and then
you will thank me for bringing you away."

"And I thought you were a gentleman; I took you for an honest man. Oh,
if hate could kill you you would fall dead from this horse. What have I
done that I should come in contact with such a villain?"

[Illustration: "If hate could kill you, you would fall dead from this
horse."]

"You have a pistol," I said--I had felt it against my arm--"and it is
easy for you to use it. If you think so meanly of me why not rid the
earth of such a villain?"

"Do you know who I am?" she asked with a gasp of apprehension.

"Why, certainly," I answered. "Do you think I'd be taking the trouble
to save you else?"

"Trouble to save me? Save me? Why, I hope your savage General will hang
me as high as Haman."

"He would if he were a savage," I said, "and he would if you were a
man. And he may put you in prison as it is; you would certainly go
there if captured by the Forty Thieves. I am taking one chance in a
thousand. But better for you to be in prison, where you will be safe,
than for you to be going around here masquerading as a man and
subjecting yourself to the insults of all sorts of men."

"You are the only man that has ever insulted me. Do you hear?
You--gentleman!" she hissed. "Can't you see that I despise you? Won't
you believe it? Does it make no difference?"

"Not the least in the world," I replied. "Now, you must compose
yourself; you can be brave enough when you will--I think you are the
bravest woman I ever saw----"

"I wish I could say you are a brave man; but you are an arrant coward:
you, the soldier that plans to capture women."

"You must compose yourself," I repeated.

"In a few minutes we shall be in the presence of General Forrest, and I
should like to see you as calm as possible. I don't know, but I think
you will be safe. It was our only chance." The nearer we drew to
headquarters the more my anxiety rose; yes, and my sympathy. "By the
living Lord," I cried, "you _shall_ be safe!"

"Noble gentleman! to entrap a woman and then declare she shall not be
entrapped! To gain whatever honor there may be in a woman's capture by
running ahead of his ruffians and capturing her himself! This is
Southern manliness--this is Southern chivalry! I am glad I know it for
what it really is. Do you know," she went on, "that I really
thought--that--I--I---- You are the first man I was ever deceived
in--I----"

"Come now," said I, not unmoved, for my feelings ran far ahead of hers
and I knew what she would say and how hurt she was; "come now, you must
be calm. Everything depends on that--everything."

Near General Forrest's headquarters I dismounted and walked by the side
of my horse. Then when Whistling Jim came up, and I would have helped
her from the saddle, "Don't touch me!" she exclaimed. She jumped from
the saddle to the ground and stood before me, and for the first time I
was ashamed and afraid. "This way," I said. Then to the guard at the
door, "Private Shannon, of Captain Forrest's company, to see the
General."

"He's right in there," said the guard with good-natured informality. I
rapped at the inner door, and heard the well-known voice of General
Forrest bidding me to enter.

I saluted, and he made some motion with his hand, but his eye wandered
over me and rested on my companion. Then, after a moment, they returned
to me. "What's the matter, Shannon?"

"I have brought to you here one who came to my rescue last night when I
had been captured by a scouting party. We had gone to see the young
fellow who, you will remember, was wounded in our last affair at the
river--you saw him in the cabin. He was carried away the next day by
his friends, but grew so ill that he could be taken no farther than the
house on the turnpike two miles from town."

"You didn't let 'em git you just dry so, did you?" he asked. And then I
gave him the details of the affair from beginning to end. "I thought
Herndon was mighty keen to go," he remarked with a laugh. "You say this
young fellow fixed it so you could git away? And then you went back and
captured him? That don't look fair, does it?" He regarded me with
serious countenance.

"It is a lady, General, and I did not want her to fall in rough hands."
He uttered an exclamation of impatience and surprise, and made an
indignant gesture. "Now, look here, Shannon, that is a matter that I
won't tolerate. I've a great mind to----" He paused, hearing the voice
of his wife, who was visiting him. "Go back in there and tell Mrs.
Forrest to come in here a minute, and do you stay out till I call you.
I'm going to look into this business, and if it ain't perfectly square
all the way through you'll pay for it."

I hunted for Mrs. Forrest, hat in hand, and soon found her. I must have
had a queer expression on my face, for she observed it. "You must be
frightened," she said.

"I am, madam, for another as well as myself," and then I told her, as
we walked along very slowly, just how the matter lay. She regarded me
very seriously for a moment, and then smiled. She was a handsome lady,
and this smile of hers, full of promise as it was, made her face the
most beautiful I have ever seen before or since. It is a large saying,
but it is true.

I remember that I remained in the corridor cooling my heels a weary
time, but finally Mrs. Forrest came out. "You may go in now," she said.
"It is all right; I'm glad I was called; I think I have made the
General understand everything as I do. There are some things that men
do not understand as well as women, and it is just as well that they do
not. I am sure you will be very kind to that little woman in there."

I tried to thank her, but there is a gratitude that cannot be expressed
in words, and I could but stand before her mumbling with my head bent.
"I know what you would say," she remarked, graciously. "The General and
I have perfect confidence in you."

I went into the room where General Forrest and Jane Ryder were.
"Shannon, what are you and Herndon up to? What do you mean by going on
in this way?" He spoke with some severity, but there was a humorous
twinkle in his blue-gray eyes. "More than that, you took occasion to
prejudice the jury. What did you say to Mrs. Forrest?"

"I simply asked her to be kind to the lady in here."

"Well, she was all of that," said the General, "and she threatened me
with her displeasure if I wasn't kind to you, and as she's the only
human being that I'm really afeared of, I reckon I'll have to let you
off this time. Oh, you needn't look so smiling; you are to be punished,
and that heavily. You are to be responsible for this young woman. You
are to take charge of her and restore her to her own people--mind you,
to her own people. You are responsible to me, and I reckon you know
what that means; if you don't you can just ask somebody that knows me."

I knew what it meant well enough, and I knew what his words meant. "The
lady is as safe with me, General, as if she were in her mother's arms."

"Now, that's the way to talk, and I believe you," said General Forrest.

All this time Jane Ryder had said not a word. She sat very quietly, but
there was not a sign of gloom or dejection in her face. But uneasiness
looked from her eyes. She spoke presently, while General Forrest was
looking through a large morocco memorandum-book that was a little the
worse for wear. "If you please," she said, "I should like to go back to
my friends to-night, if they are not all killed. They can do you no
harm even if they are alive. They are only a couple of women."

"Well, they are not killed," replied General Forrest without looking
up. "Wimmen make war on me and do a lot of damage, but I don't make war
on them. I'm letting you off on a technicality, Miss Ryder. You are not
a spy; you have never been inside my lines until to-night; and yet you
were in a fair way to find out a good many things that the other side
would like to know."

"I never found out as much as I'd like to know," she replied; "and
since he came bothering me I haven't found out anything."

Apparently General Forrest ignored the remark. He turned to me with a
slip of paper in his hand. "You'll have to change your name, Shannon.
This passport is made out to someone else. Read it."

He handed it to me, and I read aloud: "The bearer of this, Captain
Francis Leroy, is authorized to pass in and out the Federal lines,
night or day, without let or hindrance." It was signed by a great man
at Washington and counter-signed by one almost as great.

"Why, that belongs to me," said Jane Ryder; "where did you find it?"

"I reckon it's just a duplicate," said the General, smiling. "I've had
it some time."

A little frown of perplexity appeared above Jane Ryder's eyes, and if
it had never gone away until she solved the mystery of this passport it
would have been there yet, for neither one of us ever knew where
General Forrest obtained the precious document.

"You will want to go out of my lines, Shannon, and you'll want to come
back, so I'll fix it up for you." He went into the next room and
dictated to an orderly, and presently brought me a paper signed with
his own name, and I have it yet.

Everything was ready for us to take our leave, and we did so. "You are
a different man from what I thought you," said Jane Ryder to General
Forrest, "and I have to thank you for your kindness and consideration."

"It ain't what people think of you--it's what you are that counts,"
replied General Forrest. I have thought of this homely saying hundreds
of times, and it rings truer every time I repeat it to myself. It
covers the whole ground of conscience and morals.

As I was going out, Jane Ryder being in advance, the General said to me
again, "Don't make no mistake about what I mean. You are responsible to
me for the safety of that young lady. I believe in you, but I may be
wrong. If I am wrong you'd just as well go out and hang yourself and
save me the trouble."

"You needn't worry about me, General. I can take care of myself,"
declared Jane Ryder. We went out of the house and came to where
Whistling Jim was holding the horses. I dismissed him then and there,
and told him to put his horse in the stable and have plenty of feed for
mine. But Jane Ryder, for reasons of her own, preferred to walk, so
that Whistling Jim went away with the two horses and we were left to
ourselves.

I remember that I said very little during that long walk, and all the
burden of the conversation fell on the young woman. She was not at all
elated over the narrow escape she had had, and preferred to make light
of it, but I knew that, under different circumstances, she would have
been put in prison in Richmond, and I think that her nature would have
succumbed to close confinement.

"You have had your way, after all, but I am not sure that I like it,"
she said. She waited for me to make some reply, but none was
forthcoming. "I hope you don't think you have won a great victory. If I
had been a man, perhaps the victory would have been the other way."

"I didn't compel you to come with me," I remarked.

"You mean I came of my own accord. If I did, it was to avoid a scene
before my mother--the lady you saw at the house. I didn't want her to
hear you bluster and threaten; and, besides, I wanted to tell you what
I think of you. We have both had our way. My mother thinks you are a
gentleman in a way, and I know what I know."

I trudged along by her side silently; I had no relish for an argument
in which I was sure to get the worst of it. In some matters a man is no
match for a woman: he cannot cope with her in a war of words. Nor will
silence discomfit them. At least, it had no such effect in this
instance, for the more I was silent, the louder and faster she talked,
and, apparently, the angrier she became.

"You will boast, no doubt," said she, "and tell your comrades how you
lorded it over a young fellow who turned out to be a woman--how you
compelled her to go with you to General Forrest's headquarters. But how
did you know me? How did you know who I was?"

I laughed aloud. "Why, I'd know you through a thousand disguises, as I
knew you here that first night."

"I don't believe it; you didn't know me that first night; you had never
seen me but once before, and you couldn't have known me. How did you
know me to-night? You won't answer, or if you do you'll say you knew me
by my swagger. Anything to insult a woman. I'd like to be a man for a
few hours just to see how they feel toward women--just how much more
contempt they feel than they show. I tell you, you didn't know me that
first night."

"Then why did I insist on going home with you?"

This rather stumped her. "Because--because you thought I was a slip of
a lad, and you knew you could impose on me. If you had known I was a
woman, you wouldn't have called me a little devil--Yes, you would!" she
quickly added. "You would have abused me worse than that if you had
known I was a woman. How did you know--if you knew?"

"By your eyes; the moment I looked into them fairly I said to myself,
'Here's Jane Ryder again; no one has eyes like hers!'"

She was silent for a little space, and then, "Did it never occur to you
that it would be politer to refer to me as _Miss_ Jane Ryder?" Now, I
had never thought of her as Miss Jane Ryder, and I told her so. "Are my
eyes so peculiar that you would know them anywhere? Are they positively
hideous, as the young women say?" I hesitated, and she went on, "But
why do I ask? No matter what you think, it can never, never make any
difference to me, after the way you have treated me to-night, and I
hope that when you bid me good-by, as you will have to do directly,
that I shall never see you again."

"That is the talk of a child, and you are supposed to be a grown
woman," I replied. "You know very well that I am obliged to carry out
the orders of my General, no matter how much they go against the
grain."

She stopped in the road and tried to read my face even in the dark. "Do
you really mean that?" and then, without waiting for an answer, she
turned and ran, and I followed the best I could.



X


It soon dawned on me that this surprising young woman was as nimble
with her feet as a schoolboy. She scampered away from me in a way to
put me on my mettle, and she must have run nearly half a mile before I
could come up with her. I touched her on the shoulder lightly, crying
"Caught!"

"There is no getting rid of you," she answered.

"Oh, but there is, as you will discover," I said. "Once with your
kin-people, you will see no more of me." I was vexed, but my ill-humor
seemed to add to her high spirits, and she talked away quite blithely.
When we came to the door it was open, and the mother, who had been kind
to me, stood there waiting. She was crying and wringing her hands, and,
for a moment, I thought she had been maltreated by those whose duty it
was to raid the house. But her trouble was of quite another kind.

"What have you done with her?" she asked.

"She is here with me," I replied. But when I turned to confirm my
words, Jane Ryder had disappeared. I could only stare at the woman
blankly and protest that she had been at my side a moment ago before.
"I knew it!" wailed the woman. "First comes you to wheedle her away,
and then come your companions to search the house for her. I knew how
it would be. I never knew but one man you could trust with a woman, and
he was so palsied that a child could push him over. And the little fool
was fond of you, too." And with that she wailed louder than ever.

"But, my good woman----" I began.

"Don't good woman me!" she cried. "You don't look like that kind of a
man, but I knew it; I knew how it would be!"

"Fiddlesticks and frog's eggs!" I cried. "Stop your crying. She is here
somewhere. You know well enough that I wouldn't have returned without
her. She came to the door with me. I'd have you to know, madam, that
I'm not the man you take me for. Do you think I'd injure a hair of her
head? It is you that have injured her by allowing her to masquerade as
a man--a little thing like that, with nobody to advise her. You are her
mother and pretend to be fond of her; why didn't you advise her against
all this? Why didn't you take a hickory to her and compel her to
remember her sex? You are the cause of it all--yes, you!"

I spoke in a very loud tone, for I was very angry, and I knew that the
only way to contend with a woman was to make more noise than she could.
Just as I was about to continue my railing protest, Jane Ryder came
through an inner door, dressed, as she should be, in the garb of her
sex. Her toilette would have been complete but for the fact that in her
haste her hair had fallen loose from its fastenings and now flowed over
her shoulders and down to her waist, black as night and as shiny as
silk.

"I thank you both for your good opinions," she said, making a mock
courtesy, "especially the chivalrous Mr. Carroll Shannon, with his
straps, and his hickories, and his riding-whips, and I hope he will
soon get a woman on whom he can use them all."

"Oh, Jane! Jane!" cried the other, "why will you worry those who love
you? Why will you try them so?"

The young woman's face fell at that, and she seemed to be very
contrite. She went quickly across the room and never paused until she
found herself in the woman's arms, and showed her love by so many
quaint and delicate little caresses, and had such a dainty and
bewitching way about her, that no human could have held out against
her. The woman's face had cleared on the instant and was no more
clouded with grief and anxiety. "You see how she is," said the woman to
me; "hurting you to the heart one minute and making you forget it the
next."

"I see," I replied; "but you should control her. You should make her
remember who and what she is, and not permit her to go about as a man
or boy. Don't you know how dangerous it is?"

"Oh, but she's her own mistress," the woman explained. "She can
wheedle, and no one can say her nay. But I'm glad she went away
to-night, though I was terribly afraid for her. She had no more than
got out of hearing before there came a pack of troopers, and nothing
must do but they must search the whole house from top to bottom. They
were hunting for Leroy, too, and if she had been here there would have
been trouble."

"What did I tell you?" I exclaimed. "I captured her ahead of them,
carried her to General Forrest, and now she is my prisoner. I am
responsible for her."

"I believe I had rather the others had captured me," Jane Ryder
declared. The woman looked at me and shook her head, as much as to say,
"Never believe her."

"Why did you trouble yourself?" Jane Ryder inquired. "I am sure I never
gave you any cause to worry yourself about me. If you think you have
done me a service you were never more mistaken in your life. You have
simply destroyed my usefulness for the time being; but you have given
me an opportunity to show you what I think of your intermeddling."

"Jane! you know that he has meddled with you only for your own good,"
said the older woman. "You ought to thank him on your knees."

"On my knees!" she exclaimed angrily. "On my knees! I dare say he would
like to see me on my knees before him, but he'll see me dead first." I
was surprised at the heat she showed over the matter.

"Your mother," I said, "has simply used an unfortunate expression. You
owe me nothing--and if you owed me everything a kind word would more
than repay me."

She bit her lip, but made no reply. "It's her way," explained the
mother, "and I'm free to say it's a very poor way. It has always been
her way. Love her and she'll hurt you; do her a favor and she'll
pretend to despise you. Her kind words are as scarce as pearls among
the poor. Scarce, but when they are spoken they make up for all the
rest. Don't be angry with her; a big man like you shouldn't care what a
child like her says."

"Child! I am older than he is," said Jane Ryder.

"But age is not age unless it has experience and judgment," remarked
the older woman, serenely. "Without them, age is another form of
childishness."

"What are you going to do with me?" asked Jane Ryder, turning to me.
She was evidently weary of a discussion of which she was the subject.

She had placed her finger squarely on my perplexity, for this was
indeed the great problem that I had to solve--what should I do with
her? Not to-morrow, nor the day after, but now--to-night. The question
had occurred to me a dozen times, but I had put it aside, trusting its
solution to the moment when it could be no longer postponed. I
hesitated so long that both of the women sat staring at me. "You have
not answered my question," said Jane Ryder, "and it is important that I
should know."

"I might give you your parole for the night," I answered.

"You persist in regarding me as your prisoner?"

"I have my orders," I replied. "You know that as well as I do."

"Thank you for your information. Good-night!" and she was gone before I
could say a word, even if I had known what to say. All I could do was
to stare blankly at the door through which she had disappeared. I had
known all along that if she once took the matter in her own hands I
should be powerless, for she was a woman--and such a woman! I could no
more hold her prisoner against her will than I could fly. My whole
nature revolted at the thought of it. She was a woman--a dangerous
woman, no doubt, but still a woman--and that settled it for me.

And then, after I had looked at the door long enough to stare it out of
countenance, if it had had one, I turned to the mother and stared at
her. There was just the shadow of a smile hovering around her lips, and
it nettled me. "She is parading as a man," I said, "and I think I shall
treat her as one. A man can be rapped on the head, tied up, and bundled
about, without regard for his comfort."

"And yet," said the mother, with her knowing smile, "you wouldn't hurt
a hair of her head, nor give her a moment's discomfort." She made the
statement with so much complacency that I was more than irritated; I
was vexed.

"If you knew me," I declared, "you wouldn't say that. I have no
patience with women who try to play the man."

"I know you well enough to say what I have said," she replied. "You
have a face that tells no lies--and more's the pity."

"Where has she gone?" I inquired.

"That I can't tell you," the mother replied; "but it would be the
wonder of the world if she had gone to bed. We who love her have no
power to control her. She needs a stronger hand than ours."

"I could tell you something if I would," she remarked presently; "but
it would be like feeling my way in the dark, and I dare not. Yet there
is another thing I will tell you that can do no harm, though I promised
to keep it to myself. If you stay here you will get in trouble. The man
you shot night before last has a brother, and this brother is
determined to capture you. I'm telling you this because I think you are
a good young man. I had a son once who, if he had lived, should be
about your age, and I would have thanked any woman in the world to have
given him the warning I have given you. You can gain nothing by
remaining here. You can return in the morning. Jane will be here; she
is not going to run away from you."

"Nevertheless, I must do my duty," I said. "With your permission, I
shall remain here. Does Jane Ryder know of the purpose of this fellow?"

"Oh, no; I wouldn't tell her. She has trouble enough." She paused and
hesitated. "Why not go? There is the door; it is unlocked and you will
still have time to join your friends. This is all I can say to you--all
I can do for you."

"No; you can pray for me. And another thing: if you hear any noise
cover up your head and make Jane Ryder cover hers."

"I'm sure I don't know what to make of you," she said, puckering her
forehead as she stood in the door.

"But I think I know what to make of you and your daughter," I replied,
with a laugh.

"Above all things, don't misjudge us," and with that she was gone,
closing the door behind her.

How long I sat there I know not; it may have been one hour or it may
have been many; but some time during the night there came a rap at the
door and the pictures of Jane Ryder were blotted out of the fire and
went flitting up the chimney. The knocking was on the outer door, which
was unlocked, as the woman had said, and I cried out, "Come in!"
Responsive to the invitation, Whistling Jim made his appearance, and I
was more than glad to see him. I discovered for the first time that I
had been oppressed by my loneliness, for my spirits rose to a great
height.

He seemed very glad to see me, for he laughed aloud. "I bet a dollar
you ain't had no supper," he said, "an' I tuck an' brung you some.
'Tain't much, but it's better'n none." But I had no appetite. "I'm
mighty glad I brung yo' pistols, too, kaze dey's sump'n wrong gwine on
'roun' here. I seed two er th'ee men prowlin' roun' in de bushes ez I
come 'long. Marse Cally, how come you ter leave yo' pistols in yo'
saddle? You ain't been a-doin' dataway. I speck dat ar little man you
had up in front er you had sump'n ter do wid it." He laughed, but I
found nothing humorous in the allusion. "Did I say 'oman, Marse Cally?"
I shook my head. "Kaze ef I did, it slipped out des dry so. I wuz
comin' atter you anyhow, but Marse Harry holla'd at me an' tol' me fer
ter fin' you an' say dat de troops gwineter move in de mornin' an' our
comp'ny starts fust."

I nibbled the food he had brought me, with some particularly heavy
thoughts in regard to the course we were to take. Yesterday I was a
boy, and a very foolish one, but to-day I felt myself to be a man. The
feeling was the growth of a night, but it gave me new confidence in
myself, and, coupled with it, an assurance that I had never had before,
and that has remained with me all through the long years that have
intervened. I think it must have caught the eye of Whistling Jim--the
change, I mean--for he regarded me curiously and closely.

"Marse Cally," he said after a while, "I b'lieve you done got mo'
settled, sence--dog ef I don't b'lieve dat it's been sence yistiddy! I
dunner wharbouts de change is, but it sho' is dar. It mought be de way
you look at me, an' it mought be de way you don't look at me--an' ef
you ain't done grow'd bigger I ain't no nigger."

"I have only ceased to be giddy for the time being," I said. "I am
afraid I have some serious work cut out for me to-night. If you want to
go you are welcome to do so, and if you stay I'll be glad to have you.
I don't know anyone I had rather have near me when a row springs up."

"Me, Marse Cally? You sholy don't mean me." It was plain that he was
delighted. "You know how skeery I is, Marse Cally, when dey's a row
gwine on. I can't he'p gittin' skeer'd ter save my life. But it's de
same way 'bout leavin' you; I'm skeer'd ter leave you. I couldn't go
out dat door fer ter save my life." Whistling Jim held out his long,
slim hands where he could look at them. Then he ran the scale of an
imaginary piano, once, twice, and shivered again. "I tell you, Marse
Cally, I'm a-gittin' skeerder an' skeerder. I wish dey'd come on ef dey
comin'."

"Well," said I, "I'll place the key of the door on the mantel here, and
you can go out whenever you want to."

But he protested almost violently. "Don't you dast ter do dat, Marse
Cally! You put dat key in yo' pocket, an' let it stay dar."
Nevertheless, I laid it on the mantel. The negro looked at it more than
once, and finally, as if taking leave of the temptation it represented,
blew it a kiss from his long fingers.

As he sat down, four men filed into the room through the inner door,
which had opened almost noiselessly.



XI


The men came in treading on one another's heels. The leader was a
thick-set, heavily built fellow, and he had an evil-looking eye. He was
evidently a soldier, or had been one, for he had the air and bearing
that is unmistakable in a man who has seen service. He had a heavy jaw,
and I noticed that his hair was cropped close to his head. The others
appeared to be civilians, plain honest men, but ready, as were many men
in Tennessee in those days, to help the Union cause in a quiet way.

[Illustration: The leader ... had an evil-looking eye.]

"You said thar was only one," remarked one of them to the short-haired
man.

"I only told you what Captain Leroy said," replied the leader.

"Well, you better had 'a' fetched Leroy along," commented the man, and
I judged that he had small stomach for the work before him.

I realized that the time had come for me to speak up. "State your
business," said I. "What do you want with me?"

"We want you to go with us," replied the short-haired man; "and we'll
get our wants, too."

"Where am I to go?"

"You'll know when you get there," was the answer.

"By which road?" I asked. "I am very careful about the roads I travel."

"We'll look after the roads all right," he replied. "Will you go
peaceable or not?"

"Just for the looks of the thing," I replied, "I'd rather have it said
that I surrendered only after a struggle." Glancing at the three men
the ruffian had brought with him, I was confirmed in my impression that
the affair was by no means to their taste. If they had made a rush all
together it would have been the easiest matter in the world to
overpower me, but somehow they hung back.

"Come on," the man cried to his companions, making as if he would lead
them. They hesitated, and it was then that I gave them my views of the
situation.

"Gentlemen," I said, "I take you for honest, fair-minded men, and I
would advise you to have no hand in this business. This man's orders
are from no competent authority, and I give you fair warning that you
will bitterly regret your part in this night's work if you live through
it."

I could see anxiety, not fear, creep into their faces, and a wholesome
doubt of their leader's good faith. I was satisfied that my words had
taken the edge off their eagerness, and this was all I hoped to do. I
think the ruffian must have felt that his companions were weakening,
for he paused and turned toward them, with his hand under his coat, as
if in the act of drawing a weapon. What he intended to say I never
knew, for, as he turned toward them, still watching me out of the
corner of his evil eye, Whistling Jim was upon him.

Seizing the man in his arms, he whirled him around until he could get
sufficient impetus, and then threw him against the wall as if he had
been fired from a catapult. If you have never witnessed the fury of
genuine fright it is to be hoped you never will, for there is something
hideous about it. The ruffian had hardly hit the wall before the negro
was upon him again, making a noise in his throat like some wild animal,
his face distorted and the muscles of his arms and body standing out as
prominently as if he were covered with huge wens or tumors.

The man had not been so badly stunned by his collision with the wall
but that he could turn over, and by the time the negro reached him he
had drawn his pistol half-way from his pocket; but that was all.
Whistling Jim seized the hand and held it, and, using his head as a
battering-ram, jammed it into the man's stomach and into his face. Then
he dragged the limp body toward the fireplace, crying, "Git out de way,
Marse Cally. I'm gwine ter put 'im whar he can't pester nobody else. Ef
I don't he sho will shoot me, kaze I done seed his pistol."

While the negro was thus engaged with the most dangerous of the men, it
is not to be supposed that I was idle. The three companions of the
ruffian started to his aid when Whistling Jim began operations--their
hesitation suddenly turning into indignation when they beheld the
spectacle of a negro assaulting a white man. The foremost went down
under the chair with which I struck him, the second one tripped over
the fallen body and also went down with my assistance. The third man
suddenly found the frame of the well-made chair fitting around his neck
like the yoke of an ox. I did my best to pull his head off in order to
recover my weapon, but his neck was tougher than the joints of white
oak, and the two long legs that went to make up the back of the chair
came off in my hand, thus giving me a bludgeon very much to my taste.

It was at this juncture that the negro came dragging the body of the
ruffian and declaring his intention of giving him a foretaste of
torment. My anger was of such a blind and unreasoning sort that I had
no objections to the horrible proceeding, and if there had been no
sudden diversion I should, in all probability, have aided him in
carrying out his purpose. But there came a tremendous knocking at the
door, and I could hear someone rapping and kicking at the panels trying
to force an entrance. So I laid a restraining hand on the negro and
bade him drop the almost lifeless body.

Giving him one of the chair-legs, and bidding him keep an eye on the
three men, who evidently had had enough of the rough things of life, I
went to the door. The key was in a position to reflect the light, and I
had the door open in a moment; but whoever had rapped to get in seemed
to have changed his mind. No one came in and no one made an effort to
enter, but in another moment I heard the voice of Jane Ryder. "Run!
run!" she cried. "Run, if you want to escape! The back yard is full of
Union soldiers!"

But I thought that this was only a ruse on the part of the little lady
to get rid of me, and, instead of getting away, as I should have done,
I stepped out into the hallway. The sight that I saw filled me with
indignation, for there stood Jane Ryder, leaning against her mother,
and rigged out in the toggery of a man.

I took her by the arm, and I must have gripped it roughly, for she
winced. "If you know what is good for you," I said, very sternly, "you
will get yourself out of this wretched garb and throw it in the fire.
Will you go?"

"How can I go when you are holding me?" she asked piteously. I released
her and she went up the stairway sobbing.

Half-way up the stairs, she turned to me. "You will be sorry you didn't
go when I told you. You couldn't go now if you wanted to," and with
that she disappeared.

I could have cracked my silly pate at the sight of her weeping. I felt
a hand on my arm, and found her mother standing at my side, laughing
softly. Seeing that I regarded her with unfeigned astonishment, she
laughed the louder. "You are the first that has ever mastered her. She
is beyond me. When I married my second husband she declared that I had
sold my interest in her for a pair of side-whiskers."

The mother said this so pathetically that I could but laugh, seeing
that there was so much incongruity between the remark and the situation
all about us. My laughter must have jarred her, for she said with some
asperity, "You are laughing now, but in a minute you will be laughing
on the other side of your mouth!"

And it was even as she said. A file of soldiers entered from the rear,
and before I had time to move or raise a hand they had me surrounded.
Their leader was a man full of laughter and good-humor. "Consider
yourself a prisoner," he said to me. "How are you, mother? You are
looking well. Where is sister? Upstairs? Well, get her down, for we
must be moving away from here. What is all this?" He looked into the
room out of which I had come, and saw there the evidences of a
struggle, as well as the victims thereof.

He bustled about with an alertness that seemed to be prepared for
anything that might happen. I saw at once that he was a West Pointer. I
had seen not more than a dozen graduates of the great military academy,
but enough to recognize the characteristics that marked them all. These
characteristics are wellnigh indescribable, but they are all included
in the terms "soldier and gentleman."

"The bruiser has been bruised," he laughed. "You are looking well,
mother; keep it up for the sake of the children. Tell sister to hurry
up; we are in a tight place here."

As he spoke, there was the noise of another scuffle in the room. I
turned just in time to see Whistling Jim fling himself upon the man,
who had risen to a sitting position and was making an effort to draw
his pistol. The negro wrenched the weapon from him, threw it out of
reach, seized the hand that had held it and crunched it between his
teeth with such savage ferocity that the ruffian howled with pain.

"Oh, come!" cried the officer. "This won't do, you know; this won't do
at all. I won't put up with it."

"Ef I hadn't er ketched him when I did he'd er shot me daid," Whistling
Jim explained; "me er Marse Cally one. You don't know dat man, suh. He
been follerin' atter we-all fer de longest."

"I know him well enough," remarked the officer. "Still----" He paused
as if listening. The noise he heard was Jane Ryder coming from above.
He met her half-way up the stairs. "My dear old sis!" he exclaimed as
he clasped her in his arms. She said nothing, but sobbed on his
shoulder in a hysterical way that was a surprise to me. "Brace up, dear
girl," he said, trying to soothe her.

"They were always like that," said the mother in her placid way. "I
think it is so nice for brother and sister to be fond of each other.
Don't forget that she gave you fair warning." Her attitude and the tone
of her voice were so out of tune with all my thoughts and surroundings
that I regarded her with amazement. She paid no attention to the look,
however, but folded her hands across her ample bosom and smiled at her
children in a motherly way.

These children, I knew, were speaking of me, though I could not hear
all they said, for the officer--he was Colonel Ryder--laughed and said,
"Oh, he'll be in good company. I picked up another fellow in the woods.
He says his name is Jasper Goodrum." Then she said something in a low
tone, something that caused her brother to regard me with considerable
interest.

"Is that so?" he exclaimed. "You must tell me the particulars later; I
have no time to hear them now. We must get away from here."



XII


As he said, so it was; he hustled everything before him, permitting me
to keep my horse and allowing Whistling Jim to go along. "Good-by,
mother," he said; "I'm sorry to leave you in such a place as this. I
suppose you are waiting for Major Whiskers." He laughed gayly as he
said this, and his mother slapped him playfully as she kissed him.

He invited me to ride with him at the head of his little squad of
troops, saying that when a colonel started out to command a corporal's
guard he assuredly needed assistance. He was perhaps thirty years old,
but he had a tremendous fund of animal spirits, so that he had all the
ways of a gay youth of twenty. He paid no more attention to the man who
had been knocked about by Whistling Jim than if he had been a log of
wood, and yet he was very tender-hearted. Whatever was in the line of
war appealed to his professional instincts. War was his trade, and he
seemed to love it; and he had a great relish for the bustle and stir
that are incident thereto.

His sister rode in the top-buggy in which I had first seen her, and she
might have been the commander of the men, judging from the way she gave
instructions. She seemed to know all the roads, for she went ahead
without the slightest hesitation. She was driving a good horse, too;
his trot was sufficient to keep our horses in a canter; and whenever he
heard us coming up behind him he would whisk the buggy away as if he
scorned company. Perhaps this was due to the little lady who was
driving him.

I had no grudge against her, heaven knows, but somehow I resented my
present plight, for which I thought she was responsible. She had given
me fair warning, but she should have known that it was my purpose to
carry out the orders of General Forrest; and if I was to be warned at
all she should have told me the precise nature of the danger. In that
case, I could not only have escaped, but I could have been instrumental
in the capture of her brother and his whole party. Perhaps she knew
this--and perhaps this was why she would give me no definite
information.

But if she knew at all she must have known everything; her brother must
have come in response to a summons from her or her mother. In any case
I had been tricked--I had been made a fool of--and after what I had
done for her, I felt that I had a right to feel aggrieved. Colonel
Ryder observed my sullenness and commented on it.

"Don't be down-hearted, my boy. It is the fortune of war; there is no
telling when it may turn its sunny side to you. In your place I should
whistle and sing and make the best of it. Still, I know how you feel,
and I sympathize with you."

"I should not have gone to that house last night," he went on, "but I
knew that my mother was there, and I had received information that one
of our scouts by the name of Leroy was in great danger of capture. What
I did discover was that Miss Ryder had been captured." He laughed as he
said this, and gave me a peculiar look.

"As to Leroy," I asked, "was he at that house? I am very much
interested in knowing, for General Forrest detailed me to capture him."

"Under the circumstances, you acquitted yourself wonderfully well, and
General Forrest has no right to be displeased with you," remarked
Colonel Ryder.

"But you have not answered my question," I said.

"In the nature of things," he replied, enigmatically, "I prefer not to
tell you. Of one thing you may be sure--Leroy is not likely to bother
the rebels for some time to come. I think you have put him out of
business, as the boys say."

"Then Leroy must be the name of the man that tried to capture me at the
tavern. It was the negro that put him out of business."

"But Leroy is a very dear friend of mine," laughed the Colonel, "and
you may be sure I should not have left him there. You observed, of
course, that I was very attentive to the man your negro had whipped."
He was still laughing, and I could not imagine for the life of me why
he was tickled.



XIII


We rode along without adventure of any kind, though I momentarily
expected to hear the tramp of Forrest's outriders behind us. They never
came, and about ten o'clock--my stomach was my clock in this instance,
for I had had no breakfast--we suddenly turned off from the main road
and plunged into the shadows of the finest wood I had ever seen. There
were giant chestnuts, giant poplars, giant oaks, and giant pines. They
were so large that human beings seemed small and insignificant beside
them, and I realized that we were in the primeval forest.

The thought, however, did not satisfy my hunger, and I wondered when
and where a halt was to be called and rations parcelled out. It is a
vexatious feeling for the young to feel the pangs of hunger, and I was
not used to a long fast. My feelings were relieved by Whistling Jim,
who informed me that he had placed a very substantial ration in my
holsters; and I am free to say that, after Colonel Ryder, the negro was
the most thoughtful and considerate person I have ever seen. He had an
easy explanation for it, and spoke of it very lightly, remarking that
all he had to do was to think of himself first "an' de white folks
nex'."

In turning into the wood, we were following the lead of the little lady
in the top-buggy, and I think that Colonel Ryder had no idea whither
she was leading him. Yet he yielded himself and his men to her guidance
with a confidence that few soldiers would have displayed. We had come
very rapidly until we turned out of the main road, and then we went
along more leisurely. This gave me time to overcome my natural
stupidity, for I finally realized that our rapid movements on the main
road were intended to place us beyond the reach of Forrest's advance
guard.

The by-way that we were now following appeared to be little used, yet
it was a wide road and a good one, and probably served as the means of
communication between isolated farms, or it may have led to some lonely
grist-mill which had been built for the convenience of that thinly
populated region. Though it was but little used, it was plain to the
eye, and I thought with a smile that if Captain Bill Forrest's company
should happen to have any leisure a dozen or more of them would be sure
to see where it led, in which event----

The smile faded away as soon it came, for I thought of the little lady
in the top-buggy who was driving ahead with so much confidence. She
would be safe in any event, but what would she think of me if her
brother should be captured or killed? I shrunk from facing such a
contingency; I shrunk without knowing why. Being a young fellow, and
feeling my importance as I have never felt it since, I imagined she
would hold me responsible. I had interfered with her plans in more ways
than one, and I felt that she owed me a grudge that would grow to
enormous proportions should any harm come to her brother.

I was suddenly recalled to the affairs of the moment by hearing the
screams of a woman, followed by a rifle-shot. I saw Jane Ryder urging
her horse forward, and, without waiting to see what Colonel Ryder
proposed to do, I put spurs to my horse, followed by Whistling Jim. The
scream of the woman had sent a cold chill all through me, and I was in
no humor for waiting to see what the others would do. I thought I heard
shouts behind me, but I paid no attention to them. I turned my horse to
the left and headed him in the direction from which the sounds had
come.

Keeping a sharp eye ahead, I soon came in sight of a cabin sitting
lonely and forlorn in the middle of a small clearing. I saw more than
this, for three men were engaged in a desperate effort to batter down
the door. My horse bore me past the little lady in a flash, although
she was using the whip. With a cry of "Halt and surrender!" I rode at
the men pistol in hand. They whipped around the house without turning
their heads, and ran off into the thick undergrowth, where it would
have been both useless and dangerous to pursue them.

They left one of their number on the ground, the victim of the
rifle-shot we had heard. He begged lustily for both mercy and water. If
he had been compelled to choose between the two I think he would have
taken water. I gave him my canteen, which he emptied at a gulp and
called for more. There was a strange silence in the house--a silence in
decided contrast to the screams I had heard, and I wondered if the
wretches had shot the woman. I started to knock on the door with the
butt of my pistol, but Jane Ryder was before me.

"Only children do such foolish things," she exclaimed, and I thought
she had scorn in her voice. "Sally! Sally Rodgers! Open the door if you
are alive! Don't you know me? Your friends are here."

"Pardon me!" I said, pushing past Jane Ryder as the door opened. For a
moment I could see nothing whatever, not even the woman who had opened
the door, but when my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom that pervaded
the house--all the windows were closed--I saw the big Irishman whom I
had met at the tavern a few nights before. He was sitting very quietly
in the chimney-corner, but I observed that he had me covered with his
rifle. I stared at him without a word, and he was equally as silent,
but something in the situation--or in his face, for he had as pleasing
a countenance as I have ever seen--caused me to laugh.

[Illustration: He had me covered.]

"'Tis a long mile from a joke," he declared. "Ye see before ye Private
O'Halloran av the sharpshooters. Wan av us is a prisoner, an' I'm
thinkin' it's not meself."

"It is not given to every man," I replied, "to be taken prisoner while
he is still a prisoner. You will have to speak to Colonel Ryder."

The woman had come from behind the door to greet Jane Ryder, and now
she was giving her all the details of her troubles, her voice pitched
in a very high key. Meanwhile, half a dozen children in various stages
of undress swarmed from under the bed and stood staring at us. "The
sound of the woman's screams," said I, turning to Jane Ryder, "caused
me to forget that I am a prisoner. I hope your brother doesn't think
that I made that an excuse for running away."

"And why shouldn't a prisoner escape--if he can?" she asked, after a
moment's hesitation. "You'll never have a better opportunity to rejoin
your command. You are not under parole, and you are under no
obligations to my brother. You have only to mount your horse, beckon to
your negro, and follow the path you will find at the back of the house.
It leads by a grist-mill. A part of your command has already passed on
the road beyond the mill, but if you will go now you will fall in with
the rear-guard."

"Beggin' pardon," said O'Halloran, taking off his hat to the lady, "the
lad has engagements wit' me. He's me twenty-ninth, all told, an'
there's luck in odd numbers. If it's all the same to you, mum, he'll
stay here."

"But it's not all the same to me, Mr. O'Halloran," she said, turning to
the Irishman. "I prefer that he should go."

His eyes grew bigger as he stared at the lady. "Oh----" he exclaimed,
and then paused with his mouth open. "Niver did I hope to see me
gallant Captain in this rig. It doesn't become ye at all. The trimmin's
make ye a fut shorter, an' be me soul! ye was short enough to begin
wit'." His amazement made her laugh, but she made no reply.

"Are you going?" she inquired, turning to me. I hesitated. Undoubtedly
here was an opportunity, but something or other--some feeling or
sentiment--call it what you will--held me back.

"Not now," I said, finally. "Some other time, perhaps, but not now." I
did not realize at the time why I held back--why I refused to be free.

She turned away from me with a petulant shrug of the shoulders, as much
as to say that she was no longer under obligations to me for preventing
her capture by the party that had raided the tavern. The big Irishman,
who had evidently recognized the little lady as a person of some
importance, went so far as to try to persuade me to make my escape, or,
rather, to take advantage of the escape I had already made.

"If ye're stayin' thinkin' he's a woman, don't do ut. Don't stop for to
say good-by, but straddle yure horse an' be off wit' ye."

But the little lady had a mind of her own, as I was shortly to
discover. After she had talked with the woman for a few minutes, she
turned to me.

"Will you ride with me a few miles?" she inquired. "Your negro can lead
your horse."

I agreed with such promptness and eagerness that a faint tinge of color
came into her face. But, in the bustle of getting away, I paid little
attention to her appearance until we were on the move again, and then I
observed that she was very pale. I thought it was cold, and said so.

"The wind is certainly chilly," she replied, and then, moved by
embarrassment, or stirred by the motherly instinct that constitutes
more than half the charm of womanhood, she leaned over and tucked the
lap-robe about my knees, and then fell back in her place, laughing
gleefully, as a child might have laughed. Indeed, for a woman grown,
this little lady had more of the cunning tricks of childhood than
anyone I had ever seen--the cute little ways that endear children to
those who love them. At the time, this fact did not add to my
happiness, for, what with her womanliness and her childishness, she
presented a problem that puzzled and dazzled me, for my mind was
wofully lacking in the nimbleness necessary to follow the swift changes
of her moods.

She had turned the buggy into the woods, and was driving along with no
road to guide her. I had not the remotest idea whither she was carrying
me, but by way of saying something I protested against the way she was
pushing her horse. "You will need him after to-day," I explained.

"I have reason to be in a hurry," she said. "Horses are cheap enough
with us. They are furnished by the Government."

"Still, he is a fairly good horse," I remarked, "and he deserves some
consideration on his own account."

"Do you think so?" she cried. "I am sure you are very kind--to horses.
If I am driving him too hard you have yourself to thank. You have upset
all my plans, and I am not very happy. Don't you think a woman deserves
as much consideration as a horse?"

"They are to be treated according to their deserts," I answered,
gravely. "They know what duty is. Private O'Halloran says that you are
no woman, and I say that you are no man. Where does consideration fall
in your case?"

"I ask for no more consideration than you would accord to a human
being. Mr. O'Halloran has never seen me in my proper dress before, and
he knows only how I appear at night when I am working for the cause of
the Union. But who are you that you should judge of the deserts of men
and women? You are nothing but a boy, and you'll not be different when
you are a man. Instead of marching with your comrades, here you are
riding in a buggy with a woman--and for what? In the name of heaven,
tell me for what?"

She seemed to be overcome by quite a little flurry of passion, and her
manner irritated me. "You know why as well as I do," I replied, soberly
enough. "You heard the orders my General gave me in the first place,
and, in the second place, you know that I am a prisoner. It is odd that
you can play a game and forget the score. I imagined when I started
that my duty would be the greatest pleasure of my life."

"Do you know where you are going now?" she inquired, very seriously.

"It is a matter of indifference to me," I answered. "Wherever I go, I
am in the hands of Providence."

"If you could believe that," she remarked, "it would do you a world of
good."

I laughed at her serious manner. "Believe it!" I exclaimed. "Why, it is
too plain for mere belief. I do not believe it--I know it."

She was silent for a long time, and when she did speak her words,
showed that the matter was still on her mind. "It seems to me very
peculiar," she said, "that one so young should have such solemn
thoughts."

"Why do you call them solemn thoughts?" I asked. "Can anything be more
cheerful than to know that you are altogether in the hands of a higher
Power--to know that you will be taken care of; or, if you perish, to
know that it will be in the very nick of time?"

"You are too serious to be romantic," she said. "I should like to see
you making love."

"I can gratify your humor with a right good will--only the lady I would
make love to despises me."

"I'll never believe it," she declared, and it was evident that she
meant what she said.

"That is because you have only a vague idea of the cruelty of woman
when she has a man at her mercy--and knows it."

"I should like to see some woman at your mercy," she said. "No doubt
you would give free play to the strap and the rawhide and other
implements of the slave-driver."

Her words made me wince, and I must have shown the wound, for when I
looked at her her countenance wore an expression of regret and
repentance. "You must forgive me," she declared. "If we were to be
thrown together you would have to forgive me fifty times a day."

"Well, I thank heaven," I exclaimed, with some feeling, "that I was
never at the mercy of more than one woman, and that fact was mitigated
somewhat. She was arrayed in the garb of a man, and I was so sorry for
her that I forgot she had me at her mercy."

"You should have told her," the little lady declared. "Perhaps if she
had known her conduct would have been vastly different. You never know
what a woman will do until she has been put to the test."

"She did a good deal," I said, sullenly. "She called me a coward, a
rebel, and a traitor."

"Then she must have been in despair," replied the little lady in the
most matter-of-fact way. "When you are a little older you will discover
that despair has an anger all its own. But I hope you will never feel
it," she sighed. "Anyone can I see that you know very little about
women."

"I hope my ignorance does me no harm," I suggested.

"Not the slightest," she answered. "It is a help to you. It is the sort
that goes with youth, and I had rather have your youth than all the
experience in the world."

The answer I made I shall always regard as an inspiration. "You can
have my youth," I said, "if you will take all that goes with it." For
one or two little moments she either doubted her ears or failed to
catch my meaning. But when she could no longer doubt--when she was
obliged to understand me--she hid her face in her hands to conceal the
result of her emotions. I seized her hands and compelled her to look at
me. She was blushing like a school-girl. "Is my youth, with all its
appurtenances, worth your acceptance?" I asked. She made no reply, and
I think she would have maintained silence the rest of the way but for
my persistent chattering.

To me her embarrassment was very beautiful--thrilling, indeed--and in
some mysterious way her youth came back to her, and she seemed to be no
more than sixteen. "My youth is not too youthful for you," I insisted.
"I have grown very much older lately, and you have become a girl again
in the last five minutes." She was still silent, and I took advantage
of it to draw her hands under the lap-robe. "There is no reason why
your fingers should freeze," I said.

"They are not likely to--now," she declared, and, though it may have
been pure imagination, I thought she leaned a little nearer, and the
bare idea of such graciousness on her part seemed to change my whole
nature. All the folly of youth went out of me, and love came in and
took its place and filled my whole being. What I had been belonged to
the remote past; I knew that I should never be the same again.

"I offered you my youth," I said, "and now I offer you my manhood, such
as it is. You must answer yea or nay."

She gave me a quick, inquiring glance, and her face told me all that I
desired to know. "Neither yea nor nay," she replied. "We are both very
foolish, but, of the two, I am the more foolish. We are trying to look
too far ahead; we are prying into the future, and the future is away
beyond us. Everything you say and everything I have in my mind is
absurd, no matter how agreeable it may be. Do you care enough for me to
desert your comrades and fling your principles to the four winds? Do I
care enough for you to leave my people and give my sympathies to your
side?" She was smiling as she spoke, but I knew that she was very
serious, and I made no reply. "I am going to tell you the simple
truth," she went on. "I do care enough for you to leave everything for
your sake, for there can be no real love where there is not a
willingness to sacrifice all---- Oh, I don't know why women are
compelled to make all the sacrifices."

"She not only does that," I replied, "but she is compelled to bear the
burden of them alone. Ordinarily, man is a hindrance rather than a
help, but I am here to help you."

"Then help me in the right way," she implored.

"I will," I replied; "but here is an argument that is worth all the
rest," and with that I drew her to me and pressed my lips to hers. She
made no resistance whatever, but somehow the argument did not appeal to
her reason.

"I could kiss you twice ten thousand times," she declared, "but facts
would remain the same. I have heard that your people have great notions
of honor, and I hope it is true in your case."

Well, it was only too true, and I knew it, but, manlike, I must take
some reprisal from the truth. "Your mother told me," I said, "that you
have a great knack of hurting those you love."

She leaned against me with a sigh. "If I thought that the truth could
really hurt you," she declared, "I should never be happy again in this
world, but it is something else that hurts, and it is hurting me a
great deal worse than it is hurting you."

I suppose I am not the only man in the world that has been caught in
the desert that sometimes stretches its barren wastes between love and
duty. I knew that if I but held out my hand to this little woman she
would give up all, and, assuredly, had she held out her hand to me I
should have flung duty to the winds. But she was of a different mould.
The only comfort I had at the moment was in feeling that the sacrifice
was mutual.

I longed for her brother to ride up behind us, so that I might still be
a prisoner, but she had provided against that. I realized at last that
I had never been regarded as a prisoner. I should have been grateful,
but I was not--at least, not at the moment. If, as has been said, a man
cuts a ridiculous figure when he is sulking, my appearance must have
been truly laughable. But the little lady was very sweet and patient.
Her eyes were so full of tears, as she afterward confessed, that she
could hardly see to guide her horse.

When I came to take note of my surroundings I could not refrain from
uttering an exclamation of surprise. We had issued from the forest,
when or how I knew not, and were now ascending a very steep hill.
Looking back, I saw a mill behind me, and noticed that Whistling Jim
was engaged in conversation with the miller. He was evidently
negotiating for meal or flour; but it all came to me as in a dream.

"Did you see the mill as we came by?" I asked.

"Certainly," the little lady replied. "Didn't you hear me speak to the
miller?"

"I don't know how I am to forgive you for seeing and hearing things. I
didn't know we had come out of the wood."

She laughed merrily and laid her face against my arm, but when she
lifted it she was crying. "Oh, don't make it too hard for me," she
pleaded. "I am not myself to-day. Duty has been poisoned for me, and I
shall be wretched until this war is over. Surely it can't last long."

"Not longer than a century," I replied, bitterly.

"Look yonder!" she exclaimed.

We had now reached the top of the hill, and when I looked in the
direction in which she pointed, I saw a sight that thrilled me.



XIV


From the crest of the hill a vast panorama, bare but beautiful,
stretched out before us. The hill was not a mountain--indeed, from the
direction of our approach, it seemed to be rather an insignificant
hill; but on the farther side the land fell away from it quite
unexpectedly, so that what seemed to be a hill from one side developed
the importance almost of a mountain on the other side. The road dropped
into a valley that ran away from the hill and spread out for miles and
miles until it faded against the horizon and was lost in the distance.
The season was winter, and the view was a sombre one, but its extent
gave it a distinction all its own. Far to the left a double worm-fence
ran, and we knew that a road lay between, for along its lazy length a
troop of cavalry trailed along.

I knew it instantly for the rear-guard of my command, and the sight of
it thrilled me. I suppose something of a glow must have come into my
face, for the little woman at my side stirred impatiently. "That is
your command," she said, "and you are glad to see them." She was silent
a moment, and then, as if she had suddenly lost all control of herself,
cried out, "Oh, what shall I do now?"

"You knew what my duty was," I said, with a sustaining arm about her,
"and you brought me here."

"But if I had it to do over again I couldn't--I couldn't!" she wailed.

"If you had it to do over again you shouldn't," I answered; and then I
seized her and held her tight in my arms. Nor did I release her until
Whistling Jim, coming up and realizing the situation, celebrated it by
whistling a jig. "If you'll say the word," I declared, "I'll go with
you."

"I can't! I can't!" she cried. "Do you say it, and I'll go with you."

But neither of us said it; something beyond ourselves held us back. I
am not sure, after all, that it was a sense of duty; but, whatever it
was, it was effectual.

"I am afraid something dreadful will happen to you," she declared. "I
have dreamed and dreamed about it. You have made a coward of me. I'm
not afraid for myself, but for you."

"One year after the war is over," I said, "I shall be at the old tavern
in Murfreesborough. One year to a day. Will you meet me there?"

"I'll be there," she replied, "or send a messenger to tell you that I
am dead."

And so we parted. I mounted my horse, and she turned her buggy around.
I watched her until she passed out of sight, and I knew that one of her
little hands must be cold, for she waved it constantly until a turn in
the road hid her from view. On the road toward which she was going I
could see a group of men and horses, and I knew that her brother
awaited her. With a heavy heart, I turned my horse's head, and went
galloping after my comrades, followed by Whistling Jim.

I had but one thought, and that was to report to General Forrest as
promptly as possible and receive the reprimand that I knew I deserved.
At that time it was the general opinion, even among those of his
command who were not thrown into daily contact with him, that this
truly great man was of a grim and saturnine disposition. But it was an
opinion that did him great injustice. There were times when he fairly
bubbled over with boyish humor, and though these moments were rare, he
was unfailingly cordial to those that had met his expectations or who
had his confidence. He could be grim enough when circumstances demanded
a display of temper, but he had never made me the victim of his
displeasure.

I looked forward with no little concern to our next meeting, for I felt
that I merited a reprimand, and I knew how severe he could be on such
occasions. He was far to the front, as I knew he would be. "Hello,
Shannon!" he exclaimed, in response to my salute. His countenance was
serious enough, but there was a humorous twinkle in his eye. "Did you
fetch me the fellow I sent you for?"

Thereupon, I related my adventures as briefly as I could. He seemed to
be amused at something or other--I have thought since that it must have
been at my attitude of self-depreciation--and called two or three of
his favorite officers so that they might enjoy it with him. He was
highly tickled by the narrative of my experience with the little lady
in the top-buggy, though, as a matter of course, I suppressed some of
the details.

"Now, I want you all to look at this boy," he said to his officers when
I had concluded. "He ain't anything but a boy, and yet he did what no
other man in my command could have done. He captured Leroy, the fellow
you have been reading about, and fetched him to me, and I've put him
out of business. There's Goodrum, an old campaigner, a man who knows
every man, woman, and child in this part of Tennessee. I put Goodrum on
the same trail, and Goodrum's a prisoner. This boy was a prisoner, too,
and yet he turns up all right and puts up a poor mouth about what he
failed to do. If every man in my command would fail in the same way
I'd have the finest body of troops in the army. And look at him blush.
Why, if these other fellows were in your place"--indicating the
officers--"they'd be strutting around here like peacocks."

"But, General," I protested, "what I did was through my blundering."

"Then I hope you'll go right ahead with your blunders; you couldn't
please me better. I'm going to take you away from the Independents, and
I'll put you where I can get my hands on you any hour of the night or
day."

And as he said so it was--and so it remained until the close of the
war. Especially was it so when Forrest was ordered to cover Hood's
retreat after the disastrous affair at Nashville. History has not made
very much of this achievement, but I have always thought that it was
the most remarkable episode of the war. Under the circumstances, no
other leader could have accomplished it. No other man could have
imposed his personality between the defeated Confederates and their
victorious foe, bent on their total destruction. It was little short of
wonderful.

I remember that I was shoeless, along with the greater part of my
command, though the weather was bitter cold, and my feet were bleeding,
and yet when I heard that trumpet voice, ordering us from the wagons to
make one more stand, I never thought of my feet. Nor was there a
shirker among the men--and all because the leader was Forrest. Nothing
but death would have prevented us from responding to his summons. And
we saved that defeated army from annihilation, holding the enemy at bay
and driving him back, when, if he had known the true condition of
affairs, he would have ridden over us roughshod. There were times when
we were upon the point of giving way and fleeing before the numbers
that were hurled against us. But always the imposing figure of Forrest
appeared at the weak point, and then it would be the enemy would give
way.

                     *      *      *      *      *

At this point, with only a few more words, my story would have been
ended, but the young lady to whom it was first told would not permit it
to end there. Her Boston education had not eliminated her curiosity.
She sat looking at her mother with an indescribable expression on her
face. I knew not whether she was on the point of laughing or crying,
and I think that for a moment the mother was as doubtful as I. She did
neither the one nor the other, but went to her mother's chair and
kneeled on the floor beside her.

"Hasn't Dad left something out?"

"Why, I think not," replied the mother. "Indeed, I think he has told
too much."

"Oh, no, not too much," replied the young woman. "I know he has left
out something, and I think it is the most important part."

"What I have not told," I remarked, "has been strongly intimated. It is
best to leave some things to the imagination."

"I think not," replied the young woman, with decision. "You haven't
told anything about what happened after the war."

"That's true," commented the mother, with something like a blush; "but
I think that is almost too personal."

"No, no," the girl insisted with a smile; "you know how the public take
such things. If Dad writes his story and has it put in a book the
readers will think it is pure fiction."

"But if it were fiction," said I, "it would be a bad thing for all of
us."

Fiction or not, I was compelled to tell the story until there was no
more story to tell.

In the middle of April, one year after the surrender, I made all my
preparations to return to Murfreesborough, and it was no surprise to me
that Harry Herndon was keen to go with me. His grandmother made no
objection, especially when he explained that he desired to be my best
man. His real reason for going, however, was a lively hope that
Katherine Bledsoe would accompany Jane Ryder. And then there was
Whistling Jim to be taken into account. He made known his intention of
accompanying me whether or no. He was free, and he had money of his
own, and there was no reason why he shouldn't visit Murfreesborough if
he cared to. He settled the matter for himself, and, once on the way, I
was very glad to have him along.

But for the subtle changes made by peace, the town was the same, and
even the old tavern in the woods had survived all the contingencies of
war and stood intact, but tenantless. I made haste to escape from the
old house, and was sorry that I had ventured there before the appointed
time. The sight of it gave me a feeling of depression, and I had a
foretaste of the emptiness there would be in life should Jane Ryder
fail to come.

The only consolation I had was in the hopefulness of Whistling Jim.
"She'll be dar ez sho' ez de worl'," he said, and his earnestness was
so vital that it was the means of lifting me across a very bad place in
my experience; yet it did not cure me of the restlessness that had
seized me. The night before the appointed day, I wandered far beyond
the limit of the town, and presently, without knowing how I got there,
I found myself near the house where Jack Bledsoe had lain when he was
wounded. I went to the gate and would have gone in on the pretence of
inquiring the way to the town; but a woman was standing there in the
darkness.

I hesitated, but I should have known her among a thousand--I should
have known her if the darkness had been Egyptian. I opened the gate and
held her in my arms. Neither said a word, and the silence was unbroken
until someone in the house came out upon the veranda and called:

"Jane! Jane! Are you out there? Where are you?" It was the voice of
Katherine Bledsoe, and I was glad for Harry's sake.

                     *      *      *      *      *

"I don't think that is a very pretty way to end a story," said the
mother of the college graduate, perceiving that I had nothing more to
say. "You should by all means get your sweetheart out of your arms."

"Since that day," I replied, "she hasn't been out of them long at a
time."

"But you will have to change that part of it when you write the story
out."

"Oh, no!" cried the daughter.

I refilled my pipe and listened to their tender arguments until I was
sleepy, and when I went to bed they were still arguing.


THE END





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