A train of wagons and men wound slowly over the hills in the darknessand rain toward the South. In the wagons lay fourteen or fifteenthousand wounded soldiers, but they made little noise, as the wheelssank suddenly in the mud or bumped over stones. Although the vastmajority of them were young, boys or not much more, they had learned tobe masters of themselves, and they suffered in silence, save when someone, lost in fever, uttered a groan.
But the chief sound was a blended note made by the turning of wheels,and the hoofs of horses sinking in the soft earth. The officers gavebut few orders, and the cavalrymen who rode on either flank lookedsolicitously into the wagons now and then to see how their woundedfriends fared, though they seldom spoke. The darkness they did notmind, because they were used to it, and the rain and the coolness werea relief, after three days of the fiercest battle the Americancontinent had ever known, fought in the hottest days that the troopscould recall.
Thus Lee's army drew its long length from the fatal field ofGettysburg, although his valiant brigades did not yet know that theclump of trees upon Cemetery Hill had marked the high tide of theConfederacy. All that memorable Fourth of July, following the close ofthe battle they had lain, facing Meade and challenging him to come on,confident that while the invasion of the North was over they could beatback once more the invasion of the South.
They had no word of complaint against their great commander, Lee. Thefaith in him, which was so high, remained unbroken, as it was destinedto remain so to the last. But men began to whisper to one another, andsay if only Jackson had been there. They mourned anew that terribleevening in the Wilderness when Lee had lost his mighty lieutenant, hisstriking arm, the invincible Stonewall. If the man in the old slouchhat had only been with Lee on Seminary Ridge it would now be the armyof Meade retreating farther into the North, and they would be pursuing.That belief was destined to sink deep in the soul of the South, andremain there long after the Confederacy was but a name.
The same thought was often in the mind of Harry Kenton, as he rode nearthe rear of the column, whence he had been sent by Lee to observe andthen to report. It was far after midnight now, and the last of theSouthern army could not leave Seminary Ridge before morning. But Harrycould detect no sign of pursuit. Now and then, a distant gun boomed,and the thunder muttered on the horizon, as if in answer. But therewas nothing to indicate that the Army of the Potomac was moving fromGettysburg in pursuit, although the President in Washington, his heartfilled with bitterness, was vainly asking why his army would not reapthe fruits of a victory won so hardly. Fifty thousand men had fallenon the hills and in the valleys about Gettysburg, and it seemed, forthe time, that nothing would come of such a slaughter. But theNorthern army had suffered immense losses, and Lee and his men wereready to fight again if attacked. Perhaps it was wiser to remaincontent upon the field with their sanguinary success. At least, Meadeand his generals thought so.
Harry, toward morning came upon St. Clair and Langdon riding together.Both had been wounded slightly, but their hurts had not kept them fromthe saddle, and they were in cheerful mood.
"You've been further back than we, Harry," said St. Clair. "Is Meadehot upon our track? We hear the throb of a cannon now and then."
"It doesn't mean anything. Meade hasn't moved. While we didn't win westruck the Yankees such a mighty blow that they'll have to rest, andbreathe a while before they follow."
"And I guess we need a little resting and breathing ourselves," saidLangdon frankly. "There were times when I thought the whole world hadjust turned itself into a volcano of fire."
"But we'll come back again," said St. Clair. "We'll make thesePennsylvania Dutchmen take notice of us a second time."
"That's the right spirit," said Langdon. "Arthur had nearly all of hisfine uniform shot off him, but he's managed to fasten the piecestogether, and ride on, just as if it were brand new."
But Harry was silent. The prescient spirit of his famous greatgrandfather, Henry Ware, had descended upon his valiant great grandson.Hope had not gone from him, but it did not enter his mind that theyshould invade Pennsylvania again.
"I'm glad to leave Gettysburg," he said. "More good men of ours havefallen there than anywhere else."
"That's true," said St. Clair, "but Marse Bob will win for us, anyhow.You don't think any of these Union generals here in the East can whipour Lee, do you?"
"Of course not!" said Happy Tom. "Besides, Lee has me to help him."
"How are Colonel Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire?" askedHarry.
"Sound asleep, both of 'em," replied St. Clair. "And it's a strangething, too. They were sitting in a wagon, having resumed that game ofchess which they began in the Valley of Virginia, but they were soexhausted that both fell sound asleep while playing. They are sittingupright, as they sleep, and Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire's thumb andforefinger rest upon a white pawn that he intended to move."
"I hope they won't be jarred out of their rest and that they'll sleepon," said Harry. "Nobody deserves it more."
He waved a hand to his friends and continued his ride toward the rear.The column passed slowly on in silence. Now and then gusts of rainlashed across his face, but he liked the feeling. It was a fillip tohis blood, and his nerves began to recover from the tremendous strainand excitement of the last four days.
Obeying his orders he rode almost directly back toward the field ofGettysburg from which the Southern forces were still marching. Afriendly voice from a little wood hailed him, and he recognized it atonce as that of Sherburne, who sat his horse alone among the trees.
"Come here, Harry," he said.
"Glad to find you alive, Sherburne. Where's your troop?"
"What's left of it is on ahead. I'll join the men in a few minutes.But look back there!"
Harry from the knoll, which was higher than he had thought, gazed upona vast and dusky panorama. Once more the field of Gettysburg swambefore him, not now in fire and smoke, but in vapors and misty rain.When he shut his eyes he saw again the great armies charging on theslopes, the blazing fire from hundreds of cannon and a hundred thousandrifles. There, too, went Pickett's brigades, devoted to death but neverflinching. A sob burst from his throat, and he opened his eyes again.
"You feel about it as I do," said Sherburne. "We'll never come backinto the North."
"It isn't merely a feeling within me, I know it."
"So do I, but we can still hold Virginia."
"I think so, too. Come, we'd better turn. There goes the field ofGettysburg. The rain and mist have blotted it out."
The panorama, the most terrible upon which Harry had ever looked,vanished in the darkness. The two rode slowly from the knoll and intothe road.
"It will be daylight in an hour," said Sherburne, "and by that time thelast of our men will be gone."
"And I must hasten to our commander-in-chief," said Harry.
"How is he?" asked Sherburne. "Does he seem downcast?"
"No, he holds his head as high as ever, and cheers the men. They saythat Pickett's charge was a glorious mistake, but he takes all theblame for it, if there is any. He doesn't criticize any of hisgenerals."
"Only a man of the greatest moral grandeur could act like that. It'sbecause of such things that our people, boys, officers and all, willfollow him to the death."
"Good-by, Sherburne," said Harry. "Hope I'll see you again soon."
He urged his horse into a faster gait, anxious to overtake Lee andreport that all was well with the rear guard. He noticed once more,and with the greatest care that long line of the wounded and theunwounded, winding sixteen miles across the hills from Gettysburg toChambersburg, and his mind was full of grave thoughts. More than twoyears in the very thick of the greatest war, then known, weresufficient to make a boy a man, at least in intellect andresponsibility.
Harry saw very clearly, as he rode beside the retreating but valiantarmy that had failed in its great attempt, that their role would be thedefensive. For a little while he was sunk in deep depression. Theninvincible youth conquered anew, and hope sprang up again. The nightwas at the darkest, but dawn was not far away. Fugitive gusts of winddrenched him once more, but he did not mind it, nor did he pay anyattention to the occasional growl of a distant gun. He was strong inthe belief that Meade would not pursue--at least not yet. A generalwho had just lost nearly one-third of his own army was not in muchcondition to follow his enemy.
He urged his horse to increased speed, and pressed on toward the headof the column. The rain ceased and cool puffs of wind came out of theeast. Then the blackness there turned to gray, which soon deepened intosilver. Through the silver veil shot a bolt of red fire, and the suncame over the hills.
Although the green world had been touched with brown by the hot sun ofJuly it looked fresh and beautiful to Harry. The brown in the morningsunlight was a rosy red, and the winds of dawn were charged with life.His horse, too, felt the change and it was easy now to force him into agallop toward a fire on a low hill, which Harry felt sure had beenbuilt to cook breakfast for their great commander.
As he approached he saw Lee and his generals standing before the blaze,some eating, and others drinking. An orderly, near by, held thecommander's famous horse, Traveller, and two or three horses belongingto the other generals were trying to find a little grass between thestony outcrops of the hills. Harry felt an overwhelming curiosity, buthe kept it in restraint, dismounting at a little distance, andapproaching on foot.
He could not observe much change in the general's appearance. Hishandsome gray suit was as neat as ever, and the three stars, the onlymarks of his rank that he wore, shone untarnished upon his collar. Thedignified and cheerful manner that marked him before Gettysburg markedhim also afterward. To Harry, so young and so thoroughly charged withthe emotions of his time and section, he was a figure to be approachedwith veneration.
He saw the stalwart and bearded Longstreet and other generals whom heknew, among them the brilliant Stuart in his brilliant plumage, butrather quiet and subdued in manner now, since he had not come toGettysburg as soon as he was needed. Harry hung back a little, fearinglest he might be regarded as thrusting himself into a company so muchhis superior in rank, but Lee saw him and beckoned to him.
"I sent you back toward Gettysburg to report on our withdrawal,Lieutenant Kenton," he said.
"Yes, sir. I returned all the way to the field. The last of ourtroops should be leaving there just about now. The Northern army hadmade no preparation for immediate pursuit."
"Your report agrees with all the others that I have received. How longhave you been without sleep?"
"I don't know, sir," he said at last. "I can't remember. Maybe it hasbeen two or three days."
Stuart, who held a cup of coffee in his hand, laughed. "The times havebeen such that there are generals as well as lieutenants," he said,"who can't remember when they've slept."
"You're exhausted, my lad," said Lee gravely and kindly, "and there'snothing more you can do for us just now. Take some breakfast with us,and then you must sleep in one of the wagons. An orderly will lookafter your horse."
Lee handed him a cup of coffee with his own hand, and Harry, thankinghim, withdrew to the outer fringe of the little group, where he tookhis breakfast, amazed to find how hungry he was, although he had notthought of food before. Then without a word, as he saw that thegenerals were engrossed in a conference, he withdrew.
"You'll find Lieutenant Dalton of the staff in the covered wagon overthere," said the orderly who had taken his horse. "The general senthim to it more'n two hours ago."
"Then I'll be inside it in less than two minutes," said Harry.
But with rest in sight he collapsed suddenly. His head fell forward ofits own weight. His feet became lead. Everything swam before hiseyes. He felt that he must sleep or die. But he managed to draghimself to the wagon and climbed inside. Dalton lay in the center ofit so sound asleep that he was like one dead. Harry rolled him to oneside, making room for himself, and lay down beside him. Then his eyesclosed, and he, too, slept so soundly that he also looked like one dead.
He was awakened by Dalton pulling at him. The young Virginian wassitting up and looking at Harry with curiosity. He clapped his handswhen the Kentuckian opened his eyes.
"Now I know that you're not dead," he said. "When I woke up and foundyou lying beside me I thought they had just put your body in here forsafekeeping. As that's not the case, kindly explain to me and at oncewhat you're doing in my wagon."
"I'm waking up just at present, but for an hour or two before that Iwas sleeping."
"Hour or two? Hour or two? Hear him! An orderly who I know is noliar told me that you got in here just after dawn. Now kindly liftthat canvasflap, look out and tell me what you see."
Harry did as he was told, and was amazed. The same rolling landscapestill met his eyes, and the sun was just about as high in the sky as itwas when he had climbed into the wagon. But it was in the west nowinstead of the east.
"See and know, young man!" said Dalton, paternally. "The entire dayhas elapsed and here you have lain in ignorant slumber, careless ofeverything, reckless of what might happen to the army. For twelvehours General Lee has been without your advice, and how, lacking it, hehas got this far, Heaven alone knows."
"It seems that he's pulled through, and, since I'm now awake, you canhurry to him and tell him I'm ready to furnish the right plans to stopthe forthcoming Yankee invasion."
"They'll keep another day, but we've certainly had a good sleep, Harry."
"Yes, a provision or ammunition wagon isn't a bad place for a wornoutsoldier. I remember I slept in another such as this in the Valley ofVirginia, when we were with Jackson."
He stopped suddenly and choked. He could not mention the name ofJackson, until long afterward, without something rising in his throat.
The driver obscured a good deal of the front view, but he suddenlyturned a rubicund and smiling face upon them.
"Waked up, hev ye?" he exclaimed. "Wa'al it's about time. I've lookedback from time to time an' I wuzn't at all shore whether you twogen'rals wuz alive or dead. Sometimes when the wagon slanted a lot youwould roll over each other, but it didn't seem to make no diffunce.Pow'ful good sleepers you are."
"Yes," said Harry. "We're two of the original Seven Sleepers."
"I don't doubt that you are two, but they wuz more'n seven."
"How do you know?"
"'Cause at least seven thousand in this train have been sleepin' ashard as you wuz. I guess you mean the 'rig'nal Seventy ThousandSleepers."
Harry's spirits had returned after his long sleep. He was a lad again.The weight of Gettysburg no longer rested upon him. The Army ofNorthern Virginia had merely made a single failure. It would strikeagain and again, as hard as ever.
"It's true that we've been slumbering," he said, "but we're as wideawake now as ever, Mr. Driver."
"My name ain't Driver," said the man.
"Then what is it?"
"Jones, Dick Jones, which I hold to be a right proper name."
"Not romantic, but short, simple and satisfying."
"I reckon so. Leastways, I've never wanted to change it. I'm fromNo'th Calliny, an' I've been followin' Bobby Lee a pow'ful longdistance from home. Fine country up here in Pennsylvany, but I'druther be back in them No'th Calliny mountains. You two young gen'ralsmay think it's an easy an' safe job drivin' a wagon loaded withammunition. But s'pose you have to drive it right under fire, as youmost often have to do, an' then if a shell or somethin' like it hitsyour wagon the whole thing goes off kerplunk, an' whar are you?"
"It's a sudden an' easy death," said Dalton, philosophically.
"Too sudden an' too easy. I don't mind tellin' you that seein' menkilled an' wounded is a spo't that's beginnin' to pall on me. ReckonI've had enough of it to last me for the next thousand years. I'veforgot, if I ever knowed, what this war wuz started about. Say, youngfellers, I've got a wife back thar, a high-steppin', fine-lookin' galnot more'n twenty years old--I'm just twenty-five myself, an' we've gota year-old baby the cutest that wuz ever born. Now, when I wuz lookin'at that charge of Pickett's men, an' the whole world wuz blazin' withfire, an' all the skies wuz rainin' steel and lead, an' whar grassgrowed before, nothin' but bayonets wuz growin' then, do you know whatI seed sometimes?"
"What was it?" asked Harry.
"Fur a secon' all that hell of fire an' smoke an' killin' would floataway, an' I seed our mountain, with the cove, an' the trees, an' thegreen grass growin' in it, an' the branch, with the water so clear youcould see your face in it, runnin' down the center, an' thar at thehead of the cove my cabin, not much uv a buildin' to look at, notowerin' mansion, but just a stout two-room log cabin that the snowsan' hails of winter can't break into, an' in the door wuz standin' Marywith the hair flyin' about her face, an' her eyes shinin', with thelittle feller in her arms, lookin' at me 'way off as I come walkin'fast down the cove toward 'em, returnin' from the big war."
There was a moment's silence, and Dalton said gruffly to hide hisfeelings:
"Dick Jones, by the time this war is over, and you go walking down thecove toward your home, a man with mustache and side whiskers will comeforward to meet you, and he'll be that son of yours."
But Dick Jones cheerfully shook his head.
"The war ain't goin' to last that long," he said confidently, "an' Iain't goin' to git killed. What I saw will come true, 'cause I feel itso strong."
"There ought to be a general law forbidding a man with a young wife andbaby to go to a war," said Harry.
"But they ain't no sich law," said Dick Jones, in his optimistic tone,"an' so we needn't worry 'bout it. But if you two gen'rals shouldhappen along through the mountains uv western No'th Calliny after thewar I'd like fur you to come to my cabin, an' see Mary an' the baby an'me. Our cove is named Jones' Cove, after my father, an' the branch thatruns through it runs into Jones' Creek, an' Jones' Creek runs into theYadkin River an' our county is Yadkin. Oh, you could find it plumbeasy, if two sich great gen'rals as you wuzn't ashamed to eat sweetpertaters an' ham an' turkey an' co'n pone with a wagon driver like me."
Harry saw, despite his playful method of calling them generals, that hewas thoroughly in earnest, and he was more moved than he would havebeen willing to confess.
"Too proud!" he said. "Why, we'd be glad!"
"Mebbe your road will lead that way," said Jones. "An' ef you do, jestremember that the skillet's on the fire, an' the latch string ishangin' outside the do'."
The allusion to the mountains made Harry's mind travel far back, overan almost interminable space of time now, it seemed, when he was yet anovice in war, to the home of Sam Jarvis, deep in the Kentuckymountains, and the old, old woman who had said to him as he left: "Youwill come again, and you will be thin and pale, and in rags, and youwill fall at the door. I see you coming with these two eyes of mine."
A little shiver passed over him. He knew that no one could penetratethe future, but he shivered nevertheless, and he found himself sayingmechanically:
"It's likely that I'll return through the mountains, and if so I'lllook you up at that home in the cove on the brook that runs into Jones'Creek."
"That bein' settled," said Jones, "what do you gen'rals reckon to dojest now, after havin' finished your big sleep?"
"Your wagon is about to lose the first two passengers it has evercarried," replied Harry. "Orderlies have our horses somewhere. Webelong on the staff of General Lee."
"An' you see him an' hear him talk every day? Some people are pow'fullucky. I guess you'll say a lot about it when you're old men."
"We're going to say a lot about it while we're young men. Good-by, Mr.Jones. We've been in some good hotels, but we never slept better inany of them than we have in this moving one of yours."
"Good-by, you're always welcome to it. I think Marse Bob is on ahead."
The two left the wagon and took to a path beside the road, which wasmuddy and rutted deeply by innumerable hoofs and wheels. But grass andfoliage were now dry after the heavy rains that followed the Battle ofGettysburg, and the sun was shining in late splendor. The army, takingthe lack of pursuit and attack as proof that the enemy had suffered asmuch as they, if not more, was in good spirits, and many of the mensang their marching songs. A band ahead of them suddenly began to playmellow music, "Partant Pour La Syrie," and other old French songs. Theairs became gay, festive, uplifting to the soul, and they tickled thefeet of the young men.
"The Cajun band!" exclaimed Harry. "It never occurred to me that theyweren't all dead, and here they are, playing us into happiness!"
"And the Invincibles, or what's left of them, won't be far away," saidDalton.
They walked on a little more briskly and beside them the vast length ofthe unsuccessful army still trailed its slow way back into the South.The sun was setting in uncommon magnificence, clothing everything in ashower of gold, through which the lilting notes of the music came toHarry and Dalton's ears. Presently the two saw them, the short, darkmen from far Louisiana, not so many as they had been, but playing withall the fervor of old, putting their Latin souls into their music.
"And there are the Invincibles just ahead of them!" exclaimed Dalton."The two colonels have left the wagon and are riding with their men.See, how erect they sit."
"I do see them, and they're a good sight to see," said Harry. "I hopethey'll live to finish that chess game."
"And fifty years afterward, too."
A shout of joy burst from the road, and a tall young man, slender, darkand handsome, rushed out, and, seizing the hands of first one and thenthe other, shook them eagerly, his dark eyes glittering with happysurprise.
"Kenton! Dalton!" he exclaimed. "Both alive! Both well!"
It was young Julien de Langeais, the kinsman of Lieutenant-ColonelHector St. Hilaire, and he too was unhurt. The lads returned his graspwarmly. They could not have kept from liking him had they tried, andthey certainly did not wish to try.
"You don't know how it rejoices me to see you," said Julien, speakingvery fast. "I was sad! very sad! Some of my best friends haveperished back there in those inhospitable Pennsylvania hills, and whilethe band was playing it made me think of the homes they will never seeany more! Don't think I'm effusive and that I show grief too much, butmy heart has been very heavy! Alas, for the brave lads!"
"Come, come, de Langeais," said Harry, putting his hand on hisshoulder. "You've no need to apologize for sorrow. God knows we allhave enough of it, but a lot of us are still alive and here's an armyready to fight again, whenever the enemy says the word."
"True! True!" exclaimed de Langeais, changing at once from shadow tosunshine. "And when we're back in Virginia we'll turn our faces oncemore to our foe!"
He took a step or two on the grass in time to the music which was nowthat of a dance, and the brilliant beams of the setting sun showed aface without a care. Invincible youth and the invincible gayety of thepart of the South that was French were supreme again. Dalton, lookingat him, shook his Presbyterian head. Yet his eyes expressed admiration.
"I know your feelings," said Harry to the Virginian.
"Well, what are they?"
"You don't approve of de Langeais' lightness, which in your stern codeyou would call levity, and yet you envy him possession of it. Youdon't think it's right to be joyous, without a care, and yet you knowit would be mighty pleasant. You criticize de Langeais a little, butyou feel it would be a gorgeous thing to have that joyous spirit ofhis."
"You're pretty near the truth," he said. "I haven't known de Langeaisso very long, but if he were to get killed I'd feel that I had lost ayounger brother."
"So would I."
Two immaculate youths, riding excellent horses, approached them, andfavored them with a long and supercilious stare.
"Can the large fair person be Lieutenant Kenton of the staff of thecommander-in-chief?" asked St. Clair.
"It can be and it is, although we did not think to see him again sosoon," replied Happy Tom Langdon, "and the other--I do not allude to deLangeais--is that spruce and devout young man, Lieutenant GeorgeDalton, also of the staff of the commander-in-chief."
"Why do we find them in such humble plight, walking on weary feet in apath beside the road?"
"For the most excellent reason in the world, Arthur."
"And what may that reason be, Tom?"
"Because at last they have come down to their proper station in life,just as surely as water finds its level."
"But we'll not treat them too sternly. We must remember that they alsoserve who walk and wait."
But St. Clair and Langdon, their chaff over, gave them happy greeting,and told them that the two colonels would be rejoiced to see themagain, if they could spare a few minutes before rejoining theircommander.
"And here is an orderly with both your horses," said St. Clair, "so,under the circumstances, we'll sink our pride and let you ride with us."
De Langeais, with a cheerful farewell until the next day, returned tohis command, and Harry and Dalton, mounting, were in a few minutesbeside the Invincibles. Colonel Leonidas Talbot and Lieutenant-ColonelHector St. Hilaire turned their horses from the road into the path andsaluted them with warmth.
"We caught a glimpse of you just after our departure, Harry," saidColonel Talbot, "but we did not know what had happened since. There isalways a certain amount of risk attending the removal of a great army."
"I am glad, Leonidas, that you used the word 'removal' to describe ouroperations after our great victory at Gettysburg," saidLieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire. "I have been feeling about for theright word or phrase myself, but you have found it first."
"Do you think it was a victory, sir?" asked Harry.
"Undoubtedly. We have won several vast and brilliant triumphs, butthis is the greatest of them all. We have gone far into the enemy'scountry, where we have struck him a terrible blow, and now, of our ownchoice--understand it is of our own choice--we withdraw and challengehim to come and repeat on our own soil our exploit if he can. It islike a skilled and daring prize fighter who leaps back and laughinglybids his foe come on. Am I not right, Leonidas?"
"Neither Aristotle nor Plato was ever more right, Hector, old friend.Usually there is more to a grave affair than appears upon the surface.We could have gone on, after the battle, to Philadelphia, had wechosen, but it was not alone a question of military might that GeneralLee had to decide. He was bound to give weight to some very subtleconsiderations. You boys remember your Roman history, do you not?"
"Fragments of it, sir," replied Harry.
"Then you will recall that Hannibal, a fine general, to be namedworthily with our great Lee so far as military movements are concerned,after famous victories over greatly superior numbers of Romans, wentinto camp at Capua, crowded with beauty, wine and games, and thesoldiers became enervated. Their fiber was weakened and their bodiessoftened. They were quicker to heed the call to a banquet than thecall to arms."
"Unless it was the arms of beauty, Leonidas."
"Well spoken, Hector. The correction is most important, and I acceptit. But to take up again the main thread of my discourse. General Leeundoubtedly had the example of the Carthaginian army and Capua in mindwhen he left Gettysburg and returned toward the South. Philadelphia isa great city, far larger and richer than any in our section. It isfilled with magnificent houses, beautiful women, luxury of everydescription, ease and softness. Our brave lads, crowned with mightyexploits and arriving there as conquerors, would have been receivedwith immense admiration, although we are official enemies. And thehead of youth is easily turned. The Army of Northern Virginia,emerging from Philadelphia, to achieve the conquest of New York andBoston would not be the army that it is to-day. It would lack some ofthat fire and dash, some of the extraordinary courage and tenacitywhich have enabled it to surpass the deeds of the veterans of Hannibaland Napoleon."
"But, sir, I've heard that the people of Philadelphia are mostlyQuakers, very sober in dress and manner."
"Harry, my lad, when you've lived as long as I have you will know thata merry heart may beat beneath a plain brown dress, and that an uglyhood cannot wholly hide a sweet and saucy face. The girls--God bless'em--have been the same in all lands since the world began, and willcontinue so to the end. While this war is on you boys cannot goa-courting, either in the North or South. Am I not right, Hector, oldfriend?"
"Right, as always, Leonidas. I perceive, though, that the sun is aboutto set; not a new thing, I admit, but we must not delay our youngfriends, when the general perhaps needs them."
"Well spoken again, Hector. You are an unfailing fount of wisdom. Goodnight, my brave lads. Not many of the Invincibles are left, but everyone of them is a true friend of you both."
As they rode across the darkening fields Harry and Dalton knew that thecolonel spoke the truth about the Invincibles.
"I like a faith such as theirs," said Dalton.
"Yes, it can often turn defeat into real victory."
They quickly found the general's headquarters, and as usual, wheneverthe weather permitted, he had made arrangements to sleep in the openair, his blankets spread upon soft boughs. Harry and Dalton, havingslept all day, would be on night duty, and after supper they sat at alittle distance, awaiting orders.
Coolness had come with the dark. A good moon and swarms of brightstars rode in the heavens, turning the skies to misty silver, andsoftening the scars of the army, which now lay encamped over a greatspace. Lee was talking with Stuart, who evidently had just arrivedfrom a swift ride, as an orderly near by was holding his horse, coveredwith foam. The famous cavalryman was clothed in his gorgeous best.His hat was heavy with gold braid, and the broad sash about his waistwas heavy with gold, also. Dandy he was, but brilliant cavalryman andgreat soldier too! Both friend and foe had said so.
Harry, sitting on the grass, with his back against a tree, watched thetwo generals as they talked long and earnestly. Now and then Stuartnervously switched the tops of his own high riding boots with thelittle whip that he carried, but the face of Lee, revealed clearly inthe near twilight, remained grave and impassive.
After a long while Stuart mounted and rode away, and Sherburne, who hadbeen sitting among the trees on the far side of the fire, came over andjoined Harry and Dalton. He too was very grave.
"Do you know what has happened?" he said in a low tone to the two lads.
"Yes, there was a big battle at Gettysburg, and as we failed to win itwe're now retreating," replied Harry.
"That's true as far as it goes, but it's not all. We've heard--and thenews is correct beyond a doubt--that Grant has taken Vicksburg andPemberton's army with it."
"Good God, Sherburne, it can't be so!"
"It shouldn't be so, but it is! Oh, why did Pemberton let himself betrapped in such a way! A whole army of ours lost and our greatestfortress in the West taken! Why, the Yankee men-of-war can steam upthe Mississippi untouched, all the way from the Gulf to Minnesota."
Harry and Dalton were appalled, and, for a little while, were silent.
"I knew that man Grant would do something terrible to us," Harry saidat last. "I've heard from my people in Kentucky what sort of a generalhe is. My father was at Shiloh, where we had a great victory on, butGrant wouldn't admit it, and held on, until another Union army came upand turned our victory into defeat. My cousin, Dick Mason, has beenwith Grant a lot, and I used to get a letter from him now and then,even if he is in the Yankee army. He says that when Grant takes holdof a thing he never lets go, and that he'll win the war for his side."
"Your cousin may be right about Grant's hanging on," said Dalton withsudden angry emphasis, "but neither he nor anybody else will win thiswar for the Yankees. We've lost Vicksburg, and an army with it, andwe've retreated from Gettysburg, with enough men fallen there to makeanother army, but they'll never break through the iron front of Lee andhis veterans."
"Hope you're right," said Sherburne, "but I'm off now. I'm in thesaddle all night with my troop. We've got to watch the Yankee cavalry.Custer and Pleasanton and the rest of them have learned to ride in away that won't let Jeb Stuart himself do any nodding."
He cantered off and the lads sat under the trees, ready for possibleorders. They saw the fire die. They heard the murmur of the campsink. Lee lay down on his bed of boughs, other generals withdrew tosimilar beds or to tents, and the two boys still sat under the trees,waiting and watching, and never knowing at what moment they would beneeded.