Reading Books on PopNovel APP

The Rock of Chickamauga: A Story of the Western Crisis

The Rock of Chickamauga: A Story of the Western Crisis

Author:Joseph A. Altsheler


“You have the keenest eyes in the troop. Can you see anything ahead?” asked Colonel Winchester. “Nothing living, sir,” replied Dick Mason, as he swept his powerful glasses in a half-curve. ...
Show All▼

  “You have the keenest eyes in the troop. Can you see anything ahead?”asked Colonel Winchester.

  “Nothing living, sir,” replied Dick Mason, as he swept his powerfulglasses in a half-curve. “There are hills on the right and in thecenter, covered with thick, green forest, and on the left, where theland lies low, the forest is thick and green too, although I think Icatch a flash of water in it.”

  “That should be the little river of which our map tells. And you,Warner, what do your eyes tell you?”

  “The same tale they tell to Dick, sir. It looks to me like awilderness.”

  “And so it is. It's a low-lying region of vast forests and thickets,of slow deep rivers and creeks, and of lagoons and bayous. If Northerntroops want to be ambushed they couldn't come to a finer place for it.Forrest and five thousand of his wild riders might hide within rifleshot of us in this endless mass of vegetation. And so, my lads, itbehooves us to be cautious with a very great caution. You will recallhow we got cut up by Forrest in the Shiloh time.”

  “I do, sir,” said Dick and he shuddered as he recalled those terriblemoments. “This is Mississippi, isn't it?”

  Colonel Winchester took a small map from his pocket, and, unfolding it,examined it with minute care.

  “If this is right, and I'm sure it is,” he replied, “we're far down inMississippi in the sunken regions that border the sluggish tributariesof the Father of Waters. The vegetation is magnificent, but for a homegive me higher ground, Dick.”

  “Me too, sir,” said Warner. “The finest state in this Union is Vermont.I like to live on firm soil, even if it isn't so fertile, and I like tosee the clear, pure water running everywhere, brooks and rivers.”

  “I'll admit that Vermont is a good state for two months in the year,”said Dick.

  “Why not the other ten?”

  “Because then it's frozen up, solid and hard, so I've heard.”

  The other boys laughed and kept up their chaff, but Colonel Winchesterrode soberly ahead. Behind him trailed the Winchester regiment, nowreorganized and mounted. Fresh troops had come from Kentucky, andfragments of old regiments practically destroyed at Perryville and StoneRiver had been joined to it.

  It was a splendid body of men, but of those who had gone to Shiloh onlyabout two hundred remained. The great conflicts of the West, and theminor battles had accounted for the others. But it was perhaps one ofthe reliefs of the Civil War that it gave the lads who fought it littletime to think of those who fell. Four years crowded with battles, greatand small, sieges and marches absorbed their whole attention.

  Now two men, the dreaded Forrest and fierce little Joe Wheeler, occupiedthe minds of Winchester and his officers. It was impossible to keeptrack of these wild horsemen here in their own section. They had a habitof appearing two or three hundred miles from the place at which theywere expected.

  But the young lieutenants while they watched too for their redoubtablefoes had an eye also for the country. It was a new kind of region forall of them. The feet of their horses sank deep in the soft black soil,and there was often a sound of many splashings as the regiment rodeacross a wide, muddy brook.

  Dick noted with interest the magnolias and the live oaks, and the greatstalks of the sunflower. Here in this Southern state, which bathedits feet in the warm waters of the Gulf, spring was already far along,although snows still lingered in the North.

  The vegetation was extravagant in its luxuriance and splendor. Theenormous forest was broken by openings like prairies, and in every oneof them the grass grew thick and tall, interspersed with sunflowers andblossoming wild plants. Through the woods ran vast networks of vines,and birds of brilliant plumage chattered in the trees. Twice, deersprang up before them and raced away in the forest. It was thewilderness almost as De Soto had traversed it nearly four centuriesbefore, and it had a majesty which in its wildness was not without itssinister note.

  They approached a creek, deeper and wider than usual, flowing in slow,yellow coils, and, as they descended into the marsh that enclosed itswaters, there was a sharp crackling sound, followed quickly by anotherand then by many others. The reports did not cease, and, althoughblood was shed freely, no man fell from his horse, nor was any woundedmortally. But the assault was vicious and it was pushed home with theutmost courage and tenacity, although many of the assailants fell neverto rise again. Cries of pain and anger, and imprecations arose from thestricken regiment.

  “Slap! Slap!”

  “Bang! Bang!”

  “Ouch! He's got his bayonet in my cheek!”

  “Heavens, that struck me like a minie ball! And it came, whistling andshrieking, too, just like one!”

  “Phew, how they sting! and my neck is bleeding in three places!”

  “By thunder, Bill, I hit that fellow, fair and square! He'll nevertrouble an honest Yankee soldier again!”

  The fierce buzzing increased all around them and Colonel Winchestershouted to his trumpeter:

  “Blow the charge at once!”

  The man, full willing, put the trumpet to his lips and blew loud andlong. The whole regiment went across the creek at a gallop--the waterflying in yellow showers--and did not stop until, emerging from themarsh, they reached the crest of a low hill a mile beyond. Here, stung,bleeding and completely defeated by the enemy they stopped for repairs.An occasional angry buzz showed that they were not yet safe from theskirmishers, but their attack seemed a light matter after the fullassault of the determined foe.

  “I suppose we're all wounded,” said Dick as he wiped a bleeding cheek.“At least as far as I can see they're hurt. The last fellow who got hisbayonet in my face turned his weapon around and around and sang merrilyat every revolution.”

  “We were afraid of being ambushed by Forrest,” said Warner, speakingfrom a swollen countenance. “Instead we struck something worse; we rodestraight into an ambush of ten billion high-powered mosquitoes, everyone tipped with fire. Have we got enemies like these to fight all theway down here?”

  “They sting the rebels, too,” said Pennington.

  “Yes, but they like newcomers best, the unacclimated. When we rode downinto that swamp I could hear them shouting, to one another: 'That fatfellow is mine, I saw him first! I've marked the rosy-cheeked boy formine. Keep away the rest of you fellows!' I feel as if I'd been througha battle. No more marshes for me.”

  Some of the provident produced bottles of oil of pennyroyal. SergeantDaniel Whitley, who rode a giant bay horse, was one of the mostforeseeing in this respect, and, after the boys had used his soothingliniment freely, the fiery torment left by the mosquito's sting passedaway.

  The sergeant seemed to have grown bigger and broader than ever. Hisshoulders were about to swell through his faded blue coat, and the handresting easily on the rein had the grip and power of a bear's paw. Hisrugged face had been tanned by the sun of the far south to the color ofan Indian's. He was formidable to a foe, and yet no gentler heart beatthan that under his old blue uniform. Secretly he regarded the younglieutenants, his superiors in military rank and education, as bravechildren, and often he cared for them where his knowledge and skill weregreater than theirs or even than that of colonels and generals.

  “God bless you, Sergeant,” said Dick, “you don't look like an angel, butyou are one--that is, of the double-fisted, fighting type.”

  The sergeant merely smiled and replaced the bottle carefully in hispocket, knowing that they would have good use for it again.

  The regiment after salving its wounds resumed its watchful march.

  “Do you know where we're going?” Pennington asked Dick.

  “I think we're likely if we live long enough to land in the end beforeVicksburg, the great Southern fortress, but as I gather it we meanto curve and curl and twist about a lot before then. Grant, they say,intends to close in on Vicksburg, while Rosecrans farther north iswatching Bragg at Chattanooga. We're a flying column, gathering upinformation, and ready for anything.”

  “It's funny,” said Warner thoughtfully, “that we've already got so farsouth in the western field. We can't be more than two or three hundredmiles from the Gulf. Besides, we've already taken New Orleans, thebiggest city of the South, and our fleet is coming up the river to meetus. Yet in the East we don't seem to make any progress at all. We losegreat battles there and Fredericksburg they say was just a slaughter ofour men. How do you make it out, Dick?”

  “I've thought of several reasons for it. Our generals in the West arebetter than our generals in the East, or their generals in the East arebetter than their generals in the West. And then there are the rivers.In the East they mostly run eastward between the two armies, and theyare no help to us, but a hindrance rather. Here in the West the rivers,and they are many and great, mostly run southward, the way we want togo, and they bring our gunboats on their bosoms. Excuse my poetry, butit's what I mean.”

  “You must be right. I think that all the reasons you give applytogether. But our command of the water has surely been a tremendoushelp. And then we've got to remember, Dick, that there was never a navylike ours. It goes everywhere and it does everything. Why, if AdmiralFarragut should tell one of those gunboats to steam across theMississippi bottoms it would turn its saucy nose, steer right out ofthe water into the mud, and blow up with all hands aboard before it quittrying.”

  “You two fellows talk too much,” said Pennington. “You won't letPresident Lincoln and Grant and Halleck manage the war, but you want torun it yourselves.”

  “I don't want to run anything just now, Frank,” rejoined Dick. “What I'mthinking about most is rest and something to eat. I'd like to get rid,too, of about ten pounds of Mississippi mud that I'm carrying.”

  “Well, I can catch a glint of white pillars through those trees.It means the 'big house' of a plantation, and you'll probably findsomewhere back of it the long rows of cabins, inhabited by the darkpeople, whom we've come to raise to the level of their masters, if notabove them. I can see right now the joyous welcome we'll receive fromthe owners of the big house. They'll be standing on the great piazza,waving Union flags and shouting to us that they have ready coolingdrinks and luxurious food for us all.”

  “It's hardly a joke to me. Whatever the cause of the war, it's thebitterness of death for these people to be overrun. Besides, I rememberthe words of that old fellow in the blacksmith shop before we foughtthe battle of Stone River. He said that even if they were beaten they'dstill be there holding the land and running things.”

  “That's true,” said Warner. “I've been wondering how this war would end,and now I'm wondering what will happen after it does end. But here weare at the gate. What big grounds! These great planters certainly hadspace!”

  “And what silence!” said Dick. “It's uncanny, George. A place like thismust have had a thousand slaves, and I don't see any of them rushingforward to welcome their liberators.”

  “Probably contraband, gone long ago to Ben Butler at New Orleans. Idon't believe there's a soul here.”

  “Remember that lone house in Tennessee where a slip of a girl broughtForrest down on us and had us cut pretty nearly to pieces.”

  “I couldn't forget it.”

  Nor could Colonel Winchester. The house, large and low, stood in groundscovering an area of several acres, enclosed by a paling fence, nowsagging in many places. Great stone posts stood on either side of thegateway, but the gate was opened, and it, too, sagged.

  The grounds had evidently been magnificent, both with flowers and foresttrees. Already many of the flowers were blooming in great luxuriance andbrilliancy, but the walks and borders were untrimmed. The house was ofwood, painted white with green shutters, and as they drew nearer theyappreciated its great size, although it was only two stories in height.A hundred persons could have slept there, and twice as many could havefound shade in the wide piazzas which stretched the full length of thefour sides.

  But all the doors and shutters were closed and no smoke rose from anychimney. They caught a glimpse of the cabins for the slaves, on lowerground some distance behind the great house. The whole regiment reinedup as they approached the carriage entrance, and, although they wereeight hundred strong, there was plenty of room without putting a singlehoof upon a flower.

  It was a great place. That leaped to the eye, but it was not marked uponColonel Winchester's map, nor had he heard of it.

  “It's a grand house,” he said to his aides, “and it's a pity that itshould go to ruin after the slaves are freed, as they certainly willbe.”

  “But it was built upon slave labor,” said Warner.

  “So it was, and so were many of the most famous buildings in the world.But here, I'm not going to get into an argument about such questionswith young men under my command. Besides, I'm fighting to destroyslavery, not to study its history. Sergeant Whitley, you're anexperienced trailer: do you see any signs that troops have passed here?”

  “None at all, sir. Down near the gate where the drive is out of repairI noticed wheel tracks, but they were several days old. The freshest ofthem were light, as if made by buggies. I judge, sir, that it was thefamily, the last to leave.”

  “And the wagons containing their valuables had gone on ahead?”

  “It would seem so, sir.”

  Colonel Winchester sighed.

  “An invader is always feared and hated,” he said.

  “But we do come as enemies,” said Dick, “and this feeling toward uscan't be helped.”

  “That's true. No matter what we do we'll never make any friends here inone of the Gulf states, the very core of Southern feeling. Dick, takea squad of men and enter the house. Pennington, you and Warner go withhim.”

  Dick sprang down instantly, chose Sergeant Whitley first and with theothers entered the great portico. The front door was locked but itwas easy enough to force it with a gun butt, and they went in, butnot before Dick had noticed over the door in large letters the name,“Bellevue.” So this was Bellevue, one of the great cotton plantations ofMississippi. He now vaguely remembered that he had once heard his uncle,Colonel Kenton, speak of having stopped a week here. But he could notrecall the name of the owner. Strong for the Union as he was Dick wasglad that the family had gone before the Northern cavalry came.

  The house was on a splendid scale inside also, but all the rugs andcurtains were gone. As they entered the great parlor Dick saw a largepiece of paper, and he flushed as he read written upon it in tallletters:


  “Look at that!” he said indignantly to Warner. “See how they taunt us!”

  But Warner laughed.

  “Maybe some of our men at New Orleans have laid us open to such a stab,”he said. Then he added whimsically:

  “We'll go to Vicksburg with Grant, Dick, and get that silver yet.”

  “The writing's fresh,” said Sergeant Whitley, who also looked at thenotification. “The paper hasn't begun to twist and curl yet. It's notbeen posted up there many hours.”

  Colonel Winchester entered at that moment and the notice was handed tohim. He, too, flushed a little when he read it, but the next instant helaughed. Dick then called his attention to the apparent fact that it hadbeen put there recently.

  “May I speak a word, Colonel,” said Warner, who had been thinking sohard that there was a line the full length of his forehead.

  “Yes, George, a dozen if you like. Go ahead. What is it?”

  “The sergeant, who has had much experience as a trailer, told us thatthe tracks made by the buggy wheels were several days old. The slavesprobably had been sent southward before that time. Now some one whosaw our advance has come back, and, whoever it was, he was thoroughlyfamiliar with the house. He couldn't have been a servant. Servantsdon't leave taunts of that kind. It must have been somebody who felt ourcoming deeply, and if it had been an elderly man he would have waitedfor action, he wouldn't have used saucy words. So, sir, I think it musthave been a boy. Just like Pennington there, for instance.”

  “Good, George, go on with your reasonings.”

  “As surely, sir, as z plus y equals the total of the two, the one whoput up the placard was a son of the owner. He alone would feel deeplyenough to take so great a risk. The conditions absolutely demand thatthe owner has such a son and that he has done it.”

  “Very good, George. I think you're right, and this youth in giving wayto a natural burst of anger, although he did not mean to do so, hasposted up for us a warning. A lad of his spirit would go in searchof Forrest, and we cannot forget our experience with that general inTennessee. Now, boys, we'll make ready for the night, which is not faraway.”

  The house was built for a Southern climate, although Dick had learnedthat it could be cold enough in Central Mississippi in midwinter. Butit was spring now and they opened all the doors and windows, letting thepleasant air rush through the musty house.

  “It may rain,” said Colonel Winchester, “and the officers will sleepinside. The men will spread their blankets on the piazzas, and thehorses will be tethered in the grounds. I hate to see the flowers andgrass trodden down, but nature will restore them.”

  Some of the soldiers gathered wood from heaps nearby and fires werekindled in the kitchen, and also on the hearths in the slave quarters.Colonel Winchester had been truly called the father of his regiment.He was invariably particular about its health and comfort, and, as healways led it in person in battle, there was no finer body of men in theUnion service.

  Now he meant for his men to have coffee, and warm food after this longand trying ride and soon savory odors arose, although the cooking wasnot begun until after dark, lest the smoke carry a signal to a lurkingenemy. The cavalrymen cut the thick grass which grew everywhere, and fedit to their horses, eight hundred massive jaws munching in content. Thebeasts stirred but little after their long ride and now and then oneuttered a satisfied groan.

  The officers drank their coffee and ate their food on the easternpiazza, which overlooked a sharp dip toward a creek three or fourhundred yards away. The night had rushed down suddenly after the fashionof the far South, and from the creek they heard faintly the hoarse frogscalling. Beyond the grounds a close ring of sentinels watched, becauseColonel Winchester had no mind to be surprised again by Forrest or byFighting Joe Wheeler or anybody else.

  The night was thick and dark and moist with clouds. Dick, despite thepeace that seemed to hang over everything, was oppressed. The desolatehouse, even more than the sight of the field after the battle was over,brought home to him the meaning of war. It was not alone the deathof men but the uprooting of a country for their children and theirchildren's children as well. Then his mind traveled back to his uncle,Colonel Kenton, and suddenly he smote his knee.

  “What is it, Dick,” asked Colonel Winchester, who sat only two or threeyards away.

  “Now I remember, sir. When I was only seven or eight years old I heardmy uncle tell of stopping, as I told you, at a great plantation inMississippi called Bellevue, but I couldn't recall the name of itsowner. I know him now.”

  “What is the name, Dick?”

  “Woodville, John Woodville. He was a member of the Mississippi Senate,and he was probably the richest man in the State.”

  “I think I have heard the name. He is a Confederate colonel now, withPemberton's army. No doubt we'll have to fight him later on.”

  “Meanwhile, we're using his house.”

  “Fortune of war. But all war is in a sense unfair, because it's usuallya question of the greater force. At any rate, Dick, we won't harmColonel Woodville's home.”

  “Yet in the end, sir, a lot of these great old country places will go,and what will take their place? You and I, coming from a border state,know that the colored race is not made up of Uncle Toms.”

  “Well, Dick, we haven't won yet, and until we do we won't botherourselves about the aftermath of war. I'm glad we found so large a placeas this. At the last moment I sent part of the men to the cabins, butat least three or four hundred must lie here on the piazzas. And most ofthem are already asleep. It's lucky they have roofs. Look how the cloudsare gathering!”

  As much more room had been made upon the piazzas by the assignment ofmen to the cabins, Colonel Winchester and some of his officers alsorested there. Dick, lying between the two blankets which he alwayscarried in a roll tied to his saddle, was very comfortable now, with hishead on his knapsack. The night had turned cooler, and, save when faintand far lightning quivered, it was heavy and dark with clouds. But theyoung lieutenants, hardened by two years of war and life in the open,felt snug and cosy on the broad, sheltered piazza. It was not often theyfound such good quarters, and Dick, like Colonel Winchester, was trulythankful that they had reached Bellevue before the coming storm.

  It was evident now that the night was going to be wild. The lightninggrew brighter and came nearer, cutting fiercely across the southern sky.The ominous rumble of thunder, which reminded Dick so much of the mutterof distant battle, came from the horizon on which the lightning wasflashing.

  Colonel Winchester, Pennington and Warner had gone to sleep, but Dickwas wakeful. He had again that feeling of pity for the people who hadbeen compelled to flee from such a house, and who might lose it forever.It seemed to him that all the men, save himself and the sentinels, wereasleep, sleeping with the soundness and indifference to surroundingsshown by men who took their sleep when they could.

  The horses stamped and moved uneasily beneath the threat of theadvancing storm, but the men slept heavily on.

  Dick knew that the sentinels were awake and watchful. They had awholesome dread of Forrest and Wheeler, those wild riders of the South.Some of them had been present at that terrible surprise in Tennessee,and they were not likely to be careless when they were sure that Forrestmight be near, but he remained uneasy nevertheless, and, although heclosed his eyes and sought a soft place for his head on the saddle,sleep did not come.

  He was sure that his apprehension did not come from any fear of anattack by Forrest or Wheeler. It was deeper-seated. The inherited sensethat belonged to his great grandfather, who had lived his life in thewilderness, was warning him. It was not superstition. It seemed to Dickmerely the palpable result of an inheritance that had gone into theblood. His famous great-grandfather, Paul Cotter, and his famous friend,Henry Ware, had lived so much and so long among dangers that the veryair indicated to them when they were at hand.

  Dick looked down the long piazza, so long that the men at either end ofit were hidden by darkness. The tall trees in the grounds were noddingbefore the wind, and the lightning flashed incessantly in the southwest.The thunder was not loud, but it kept up a continuous muttering andrumbling. The rain was coming in fitful gusts, but he knew that it wouldsoon drive hard and for a long time.

  Everybody within Dick's area of vision was sound asleep, except himself.Colonel Winchester lay with his head on his arm and his slumber was sodeep that he was like one dead. Warner had not stirred a particle in thelast half-hour. Dick was angry at himself because he could not sleep.Let the storm burst! It might drive on the wide roof of the piazzaand the steady beating sound would make his sleep all the sounder andsweeter. He recalled, as millions of American lads have done, the dayswhen he lay in his bed just under the roof and heard hail and sleetdrive against it, merely to make him feel all the snugger in the bedwith his covers drawn around him.

  The fitful gusts of rain ceased, and then it came with a steady pour androar, driving directly down, thus leaving the men on the outer edges ofthe piazzas untouched and dry. Still, Dick did not sleep, and at lasthe arose and walked softly into the house. Here the sense of dangergrew stronger. He was reminded again of his early boyhood, when some oneblindfolded was told to find a given object, and the others called “hot”when he was near or “cold” when he was away. He was feeling hot now.That inherited sense, the magnetic feeling out of the past, was warninghim.

  Dick felt sure that some one not of their regiment was in the building.He neither saw nor heard the least sign of a presence, but he wasabsolutely certain that he was not alone within Bellevue. Since thelightning had ceased it was pitchy dark inside. There was a wide hallrunning through the building, with windows above the exits, but he sawnothing through them save the driving rain and the dim outline of thethreshing trees.

  He turned into one of the side rooms, and then he paused and pushedhimself against the wall. He was sure now that he heard a soft footstep.The darkness was so intense that it could be felt like a mist. He waitedbut he did not hear it again, and then he began to make his way aroundthe wall, stepping as lightly as he could.

  He had gone through most of the rooms at their arrival and he stillretained a clear idea of the interior of the house. He knew that therewas another door on the far side of the chamber in which he stood, andhe meant to follow the wall until he reached it. Some one had been inthe room with him and Dick believed that he was leaving by the far door.

  While he heard no further footsteps he felt a sudden light draught onhis face and he knew that the door had been opened and shut. He mightgo to Colonel Winchester and tell him that a lurking spy or somebodyof that character was in the house, but what good would it do? A spyat such a time and in such a place could not harm them, and the wholeregiment would be disturbed for nothing. He would follow the chasealone.

  He found the door and passed into the next room. Its windows opened uponthe southern piazza and two or three shutters were thrown back. A faintlight entered and Dick saw that no one was there but himself. He coulddiscern the dim figures of the soldiers sleeping on the piazza andbeyond a cluster of the small pines grown on lawns.

  Dick felt that he had lost the trail for the time, but he did not intendto give it up. Doubtless the intruder was some one who knew the houseand who was also aware of his presence inside. He also felt that hewould not be fired upon, because the stranger himself would not wish tobring the soldiers down upon him. So, with a hand upon his pistol butt,he opened the side door and followed once more into the darkness.

  The ghostly chase went on for a full half-hour, Dick having nothing toserve him save an occasional light footfall. There was one period ofmore than half an hour when he lost the fugitive entirely. He wanderedup to the second floor and then back again. There, in a room that hadbeen the library, he caught a glimpse of the man. But the figure was soshadowy that he could tell nothing about him.

  “Halt!” cried Dick, snatching out his pistol. But when he leveled itthere was nothing to aim at. The figure had melted away, or rather ithad flitted through another door. Dick followed, chagrined. The strangerseemed to be playing with him. Obviously, it was some one thoroughlyacquainted with the house, and that brought to Dick's mind the thoughtthat he himself, instead of the other man, was the stranger there.

  He came at last to a passage which led to the kitchen, a great room,because many people were often guests at Bellevue, and here he stoppedshort, while his heart suddenly beat hard. A distinct odor coming fromdifferent points suddenly assailed his nostrils. He had smelled it toooften in the last two years to be mistaken. It was smoke, and Bellevuehad been set on fire in several places.

  He inhaled it once or twice and then he saw again the shadowy figureflitting down to the passage and to a small door that, unnoticed by thesoldiers, opened on the kitchen garden in the rear of the house.

  Dick never acted more promptly. Instantly he fired his pistol into theceiling, the report roaring in the confined spaces of the house, andthen shouting with all his might: “Fire! Fire! Fire!” as he dashed downthe passage he ran through the little door, which the intruder had leftopen, and pursued him in the darkness and rain into the garden. Therewas a flash ahead of him and a bullet whistled past his ear, but hemerely increased his speed and raced in the direction of the flash. Ashe ran he heard behind him a tremendous uproar, the voices and treadof hundreds of soldiers, awakened suddenly, and he knew that they wouldrush through Bellevue in search of the fires.

  But it was Dick's impulse to capture the daring intruder who woulddestroy the house over their heads. Built of wood, it would burn sofast, once the torches were set, that the rain would have little effectupon the leaping flames, unless measures were taken at once, which heknew that the regiment would do, under such a capable man as ColonelWinchester. Meanwhile he was hot in pursuit.

  The trail which was not that of footsteps, but of a shadowy figure, ranbetween tall and close rows of grapevines so high on wooden frameworkthat they hid any one who passed. The suspicion that Dick had held atfirst was confirmed. This was no stranger, no intruder. He knew everyinch of both house and grounds, and, after having set the house on fire,he had selected the only line of retreat, but a safe one, through thethick and lofty vegetation of the garden, which ran down to the edgeof the ravine in the rear, where he could slip quietly under the fence,drop through the thick grass into the ravine unseen by the pickets, andescape at his leisure in the darkness.

  Dick was so sure of his theory that he strained every effort to overtakethe figure which was flitting before him like a ghost. In his eagernesshe had forgotten to shout any alarm about the pickets, but it wouldhave been of no avail, as most of them, under the impulse of alarm, hadrushed forward to help extinguish the fires.

  He saw the fugitive reach the end of the garden, drop almost flat, andthen slip under a broken place in the palings. At an ordinary timehe would have stopped there, but all the instincts of the hunter werearoused. It was still raining, and he was already soaked. Wet branchesand leaves struck him in the face as he passed, but his energy andeagerness were undimmed.

  He, too, dropped at the hole under the broken palings and slid forwardface foremost. The wet grass was as slippery as ice, and after he passedthrough the hole Dick kept going. Moreover, his speed increased. He hadnot realized that the garden went to the very edge of the ravine, and hewas shooting down a steep slope to the depth of thirty feet. He graspedinstinctively at weeds and grass as he made his downward plunge andfetched up easily at the bottom.

  He sprang to his feet and saw the shadowy fugitive running down theravine. In an instant he followed headlong, tripped once or twice on thewet grass, but was up every time like lightning, and once more in swiftpursuit. The fugitive turned once, raised his pistol and pulled thetrigger again, evidently forgetful that it was empty. When the hammersnapped on the trigger he uttered a low cry of anger and hurled theuseless weapon into the grass. Then he whirled around and faced Dick,who was coming on, eager and panting.

  Dick's own pistol was empty and he did not carry his small sword. Hestopped abruptly when the other turned, and, in the dim light and rain,he saw that his opponent was a young man or rather youth of about hisown size and age. When he saw the lad cast the pistol aside Dick, movedby some chivalrous impulse, dropped his own in the grass.

  Then the two stared at each other. They were far beyond the line of thepickets, and as they stood in the deep ravine there was no chance thatany one would either see or hear them. As Dick gazed intently, the faceand figure of his antagonist shaped themselves more distinctly in thedim light. He beheld before him a tall youth, extremely well built, fairof face, his brown hair slightly long. He wore rain-soaked civilian'sgarb.

  He saw that the youth was panting like himself, but it was not whollythe result of flight. His face expressed savage anger and indignation.

  “You dirty Yankee!” he said.

  Dick started. No one had ever before addressed him with such venom.

  “If by Yankee you mean loyalty to the Union then I'm one,” he said, “andI'm proud of it. What's more I'm willing to tell who I am. My name isRichard Mason. I'm from Kentucky, and I'm a lieutenant in the regimentof Colonel Arthur Winchester, which occupies the building behind us.”

  “From Kentucky and consorting with Yankees! A lot of you are doing it,and you ought to be on our side! We hate you for it more than we do thereal Yankees!”

  “It's our right to choose, and we've chosen. And now, since you'retalking so much about right and wrong, who may you be, Mr. Firebug?”

  Even in the dark Dick saw his opponent's face flush, and his eyes flashwith deadly hostility.

  “My name is Victor Woodville,” he replied, “and my father is ColonelJohn Woodville, C.S.A. He is the owner of the house in which yourinfamous Yankee regiment is encamped.”

  “And which you have tried to burn?”

  “I'd rather see it burn than shelter Yankees. You'd burn it anyway lateron. Grant's troops have already begun to use the torch.”

  “At any rate you'll go before our colonel. He'll want to ask you a lotof questions.”

  “I'm not going before your colonel.”

  “Oh, yes, you are.”

  “Who's going to take me?”

  “I am.”

  “Then come on and do it.”

  Dick advanced warily. Both had regained their breath and strength now.Dick with two years of active service in the army had the size andmuscles of a man. But so had his opponent. Each measured the other, andthey were formidable antagonists, well matched.

  Dick had learned boxing at the Pendleton Academy, and, as he approachedslowly, looking straight into the eyes of his enemy, he suddenly shothis right straight for Woodville's chin. The Mississippian, as light onhis feet as a leopard, leaped away and countered with his left, a blowso quick and hard that Dick, although he threw his head to one side,caught a part of its force just above his ear. But, guarding himself, hesprang back, while Woodville faced him, laughing lightly.

  Dick shook his head a little and the singing departed. Just above hisear he felt a great soreness, but he was cool now. Moreover, he waslosing his anger.

  “First blow for you,” he said. “I see that you know how to use yourfists.”

  “I hope to prove it.”

  Woodville, stepping lightly on his toes and feinting with his left,caught Dick on his cheek bone with his right. Then he sought to springaway, but Dick, although staggered, swung heavily and struck Woodvilleon the forehead. The Mississippian went down full length on the slipperygrass but jumped to his feet in an instant. Blood was flowing from hisforehead, whence it ran down his nose and fell to the earth, drop bydrop. Dick himself was bleeding from the cut on his cheek bone.

  The two faced each other, cool, smiling, but resolute enemies.

  “First knockdown for you,” said Woodville, “but I mean that the secondshall be mine.”

  “Go in and try.”

  But Woodville drew back a little, and as Dick followed, looking for anopening he was caught again a heavy clip on the side of the head. Hesaw stars and was not able to return the blow, but he sprang back andprotected himself once more with his full guard, while he regained hisbalance and strength.

  “Am I a firebug?” asked Woodville tauntingly.

  Dick considered. This youth interested him. There was no denying thatWoodville had great cause for anger, when he found his father's houseoccupied by a regiment of the enemy. He considered it defilement. Theright or wrong of the war had nothing to do with it. It was to him amatter of emotion.

  “I'll take back the epithet 'firebug,'” he said, “but I must stick to mypurpose of carrying you to Colonel Winchester.”

  “Always provided you can: Look out for yourself.”

  The Mississippian, who was wonderfully agile, suddenly danced in--on histoes it seemed to Dick--and landed savagely on his opponent's left ear.Then he was away so quickly and lightly that Dick's return merely cutthe air.

  The Kentuckian felt the blood dripping from another point. His ear,moreover, was very sore and began to swell rapidly. One less enduringwould have given up, but he had a splendid frame, toughened by incessanthardship. And, above all, enclosed within that frame was a lion heart.He shook his head slightly, because a buzzing was going on there, but ina moment or two it stopped.

  “Are you satisfied?” asked young Woodville.

  “You remember what Paul Jones said: 'I've just begun to fight.'”

  “Was it Paul Jones? Well, I suppose it was. Anyhow, if you feel that wayabout it, so do I. Then come on again, Mr. Richard Mason.”

  Dick's blood was up. The half-minute or so of talk had enabled him toregain his breath. Although he felt that incessant pain and swelling inhis left ear, his resolution to win was unshaken. Pride was now added tohis other motives.

  He took a step forward, feinted, parried skillfully, and then steppedback. Woodville, always agile as a panther, followed him and swung forthe chin, but Dick, swerving slightly to one side, landed with greatforce on Woodville's jaw. The young Mississippian fell, but, while Dickstood looking at him, he sprang to his feet and faced his foe defiantly.The blood was running down his cheek and dyeing the whole side of hisface. But Dick saw the spirit in his eye and knew that he was far fromconquered.

  Woodville smiled and threw back his long hair from his face.

  “A good one for you. You shook me up,” he admitted, “but I don't see anysign of your ability to carry me to that Yankee colonel, as you boastedyou would do.”

  “But I'm going to do it.”

  The rain increased and washed the blood from both their faces. It wasdark within the ravine, but they had been face to face so long that theycould read the eyes of each other. Those of Woodville like those of Dickceased to express great anger. In the mind of each was growing a respectfor his antagonist. The will to conquer remained, but not the desire tohate.

  “If you're going to do it, then why don't you?” said Woodville.

  Dick moved slowly forward, still watching the eyes of the Mississippian.He believed now that Woodville, agile and alert though he might be, hadnot fully recovered his strength. There was terrific steam in that lastpunch and the head of the man who had received it might well be buzzingyet.

  Dick then moved in with confidence, but a lightning blow crashed throughhis guard, caught him on the chin and sent him to earth. He rose,though still half-stunned, and saw that the confident, taunting look hadreturned to Woodville's face. Fortunate now for Dick that the pure bloodof great woods rangers flowed in his veins, and that he had inheritedfrom them too an iron frame. His chin was cut and he had seen a thousandstars. But his eyes cleared and steadily he faced his foe.

  “Do I go with you to your colonel?” asked Woodville, ironically.

  “You do,” replied Dick firmly.

  He looked his enemy steadily in the eye again, and he felt a great senseof triumph. After such severe punishment he was stronger than ever andhe knew it.

  Therefore he must win. He struck heavily, straight for the angle ofWoodville's chin. The Mississippian evaded the blow and flashed in withhis left. But Dick, who was learning to be very wary, dodged it and cameback so swiftly that Woodville was caught and beaten to his knees.

  But the son of the house of Bellevue was still so agile that he wasable to recover his feet and spring away. Dick saw, however, that he waspanting heavily. The blow had taken a considerable part of his remainingstrength. He also saw that his antagonist was regarding him with acurious eye.

  “You fight well, Yank,” said Woodville, “although I ought not to callyou Yank, but rather a traitor, as you're a Kentuckian. Still, I'veput my marks on you. You're bleeding a lot and you'd be a sight if itweren't for this cleansing rain.”

  “I've been putting the map of Kentucky on your own face. You don't lookas much like Mississippi as you did. You'll take notice too that youdidn't burn the house. If you'll glance up the side of this ravineyou'll see just a little dying smoke. Eight hundred soldiers put it outin short order.”

  Woodville's face flushed, and his eyes for the first time since thebeginning of the encounter shone with an angry gleam. But the wrathfulfire quickly died.

  “On the whole, I'm not sorry,” he said. “It was an impulse that made medo it. Our army will come and drive you away, and our house will be ourown again.”

  “That's putting it fairly. What's the use of burning such a fine placeas Bellevue? Still, we want you. Our colonel has many questions to askyou.”

  “You can't take me.”

  Dick judged that the crucial moment had now come. Woodville wasbreathing much more heavily than he was, and seemed to be nearexhaustion. Dick darted boldly in, received a swinging right and left oneither jaw that cut his cheeks and made the blood flow. But he sent hisright to Woodville's chin and the young Mississippian without a sounddropped to the ground, lying relaxed and flat upon his back, his whiteface, streaked with red, upturned to the rain.

  He was so still that Dick was seized with fear lest he had killed him.He liked this boy who had fought him so well and, grasping him by bothshoulders, he shook him hard. But when he loosed him Woodville fell backflat and inert.

  Dick heard the waters of a brook trickling down the ravine, and,snatching off his cap, he ran to it. He filled the cap and returned justin time to see Woodville leap lightly to his feet and disappear with thespeed of a deer among the bushes.