The Shades of the Wilderness by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter III. The Flooded River
Harry and Dalton were aroused before daylight by Colonel Peyton of Lee's staff, with instructions to mount at once, and join a strong detachment, ready to go ahead and clear a way. Sherburne's troop would lead. The Invincibles, for whom mounts had been obtained, would follow. There were fragments of other regiments, the whole force amounting to about fifteen hundred men, under the command of Sherburne, who had been raised the preceding afternoon to the rank of Colonel, and whose skill and valor were so well known that such veterans as Colonel Talbot and Lieutenant Colonel St. Hilaire were glad to serve under him. Harry and Dalton would represent the commander-in-chief, and would return whenever Colonel Sherburne thought fit to report to him.
Harry was glad to go. While he had his periods of intense thought, and his character was serious, he was like his great ancestor, essentially a creature of action. His blood flowed more swiftly with the beat of his horse's hoofs, and his spirits rose as the free air of the fields and forests rushed past him. Moreover he was extremely anxious to see what lay ahead. If barriers were there he wanted to look upon them. If the Union cavalry were trying to keep them from laying bridges across the Potomac he wanted to help drive them away.
Harry and Dalton had a right as aides and messengers of Lee to ride with Sherburne, but before they joined him they rode among the Invincibles, who were in great feather, because they too, for the time being, rode, and toiled in neither dust nor mud.
"Colonel Sherburne may think a good deal of his own immediate troop," said St. Clair to Harry, "but if the men of the Invincibles could achieve so much on foot they'll truly deserve their name on horseback. Where is this enemy of ours? Lead us to him."
"You'll find him soon enough," said Harry. "You South Carolina talkers have learned many times that the Yankees will fight."
"Yes, Harry, I admit it freely. But you must admit on your part that the South Carolinians will fight as well as talk, although at present most of the South Carolinians in this regiment are Virginians."
"But not our colonel and lieutenant-colonel," said Happy Tom. "Real old South Carolina still leads."
"May they always lead!" said Harry heartily, looking at the two gray figures.
"Tell Colonel Sherburne," said Happy Tom, who was in splendid spirits, "that we congratulate him on his promotion and are ready to obey him without question."
"All right. He'll be glad to know that he has your approval."
"He might have the approval of worse men. I feel surging within me the talents of a great general, but I'm too young to get 'em recognized."
"You'll have to wait until the sections are not fighting each other, but are united against a common foe. But meanwhile I'll tell Colonel Sherburne that if he gets into a tight pinch not to lose heart as you are here."
Saluting Colonel Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire, Harry and Dalton rode to the head of the column, where Sherburne led. They ate their breakfast on horseback, and went swiftly down a valley in the general direction of the Potomac. The dawn had broadened into full morning, clear and bright, save for a small cloud that hung low in the southwest, which Sherburne noticed with a frown.
"That's a little cloud and it looks innocent," he said to Harry, "but I don't like it."
"Because in the ten minutes that I've been watching it I've been able to notice growth. I'm weather-wise and we may have more rain. More rain means a higher Potomac. A higher Potomac means more difficulty in crossing it. More difficulty in crossing it means more danger of our destruction, and our destruction would mean the end of the Confederacy."
He spoke with deadly earnestness as he continued to look at the tiny dusky spot on the western sky. Harry had a feeling of awe. Again he realized that such mighty issues could turn upon a single hair. The increase or decrease of that black splotch might mean the death or life of the Confederacy. As he rode he watched it.
His heart sank slowly. The little baby cloud, looking so harmless, was growing. He said to himself in anger that it was not, but he knew that it was. Black at the center, it radiated in every direction until it became pale gray at the edges, and by and by, as it still spread, it gave to the southwest an aspect that was distinctly sinister.
Sherburne shook his head and the gravity of his face increased. As the cloud grew alarm grew with it in his mind.
"Maybe it will pass," said Harry hopefully.
"I don't think so. It's not moving away. It just hangs there and grows and grows. You're a woodsman, Harry, and you ought to feel it. Don't you think the atmosphere has changed?"
"I didn't have the courage to say so until you asked me, but it's damper. If I were posing as a prophet I should say that we're going to have rain."
"And so should I. Usually at this period of the year in our country we want rain, but now we dread it like a pestilence. At any other time the Potomac could rise or fall, whenever it pleased, for all I cared, but now it's life and death."
"Our doubts are decided and we've lost. Look, sir the whole southwest is dark now!"
"And here come the first drops!"
Sherburne sent hurried orders among the men to keep their ammunition and weapons dry, and then they bent their heads to the storm which would beat almost directly in their faces. Soon it came without much preliminary thunder and lightning. The morning that had been warm turned cold and the rain poured hard upon them. Most of the horsemen were wet through in a short time, and they shivered in their sodden uniforms, but it was a condition to which they were used, and they thought little of themselves but nearly all the while of the Potomac.
Few words were spoken. The only sounds were the driving of the rain and the thud of many hoofs in the mud. Harry often saw misty figures among the trees on the hills, and he knew that they were watched by hostile eyes as the Northern armies in Virginia, were always watched with the same hostility. It was impossible for Lee's men to make any secret march. The population, intensely loyal to the Union, promptly carried news of it to Meade or his generals.
Twice he pointed out the watchers to Sherburne who merely shrugged his shoulders.
"I might send out men and cut off a few of them," he said, "but for what good? Hundreds more would be left and we'd merely be burdened with useless prisoners. Here's a creek ahead, Harry, and look how muddy and foamy it is! It's probably raining harder higher up in the hills than it is here, and all these creeks and brooks go to swell the Potomac."
The swift water rose beyond their stirrups and there was a vast splashing as fifteen hundred men rode through the creek. It was a land of many streams, and a few miles farther on they crossed another, equally swollen and swift.
They had hoped that the rain, like the sudden violence of a summer shower, would pass soon, but the skies remained a solid gray and it settled into a steady solemn pour, cold and threatening, and promising to continue all day long. They could see that every stream they crossed was far above its normal mark, and the last hope that they might find the Potomac low enough for fording disappeared.
The watchers on the hills were still there, despite the rain, but they did no sharpshooting. Nor did the Southern force do damage to anybody or anything, as it passed. Near noon Sherburne resolved to build a fire in a cove protected by cliffs and heavy timber, and give his men warm food lest they become dispirited.
It was a task to set the wet wood, but the men of his command, used to forest life, soon mastered it. Then they threw on boughs and whole tree trunks, until a great bonfire blazed and roared merrily, thrusting out innumerable tongues of red and friendly flame.
"Is there anything more beautiful than a fine fire at such a time?" said St. Clair to Harry. "As it blazes and eats into the wood it crackles and those crackling sounds are words."
"What do the words say?"
"They say, 'Come here and stand before me. So long as you respect me and don't come too close I'll do you nothing but good. I'll warm you and I'll dry you. I'll drive the wet from your skin and your clothes, and I'll chase the cold out of your body and bones. I'll take hold of your depressed and sunken heart and lift it up again. Where you saw only gray and black I'll make you see gold and red. I'll warm and cook your food for you, giving you fresh life and strength. With my crackling coals and my leaping flames I'll change your world of despair into a world of hope.'"
"Hear! Hear!" said Happy Tom. "Arthur has turned from a sodden soldier into a giddy poet! Is any more poetry left in the barrel, Arthur?"
"Plenty, but I won't turn on the tap again to-day. I've translated for you. I've shown you where beauty and happiness lie, and you must do the rest for yourself."
They crowded about the huge fire which ran the entire length of the cove, and watched the cooks who had brought their supplies on horseback. Great quantities of coffee were made, and they had bacon and hard biscuits.
Although the rain still reached them in the cove they forgot it as they ate the good food--any food was good to them--and drank cup after cup of hot coffee. Youthful spirits rose once more. It wasn't such a bad day after all! It had rained many times before and people still lived. Also, the Potomac had risen many times before, but it always fell again. They were riding to clear the way for Lee's invincible army which could go wherever it wanted to go.
"Men on horseback looking at us!" hailed Happy Tom. "About fifty on a low hill on our right. Look like Yankee cavalrymen. Wonder what they take us for anyway!"
Harry, St. Clair, Langdon and Dalton walked to the edge of the cove, every one holding a cup of hot coffee in his hand. Sherburne was already there and with his glasses was examining the strange group, as well as he could through the sweeping rain.
"A scouting party undoubtedly," he said, "but weather has made their uniforms and ours look just about alike. It's equally certain though that they're Yankees. No troop of ours so small would be found here."
Harry was also watching them through glasses, and he took particular note of one stalwart figure mounted upon a powerful horse. The distance was too great to recognize the face, but he knew the swing of the broad shoulders. It was Shepard and once more he had the uneasy feeling winch the man always inspired in him. He appeared and reappeared with such facility, and he was so absolutely trackless that he had begun to appear to him as omniscient. Of course the man knew all about Sherburne's advance and could readily surmise its purpose.
"They're an impudent lot to sit there staring at us in that supercilious manner," said Colonel Talbot. "Shall I take the Invincibles, sir, and teach them a lesson?"
Sherburne smiled and shook his head.
"No, Colonel," he said, "although I thank you for the offer. They'd melt away before you and we'd merely waste our energies. Let them look as much as they please, and now that the boys have eaten their bread and bacon and drunk their coffee, and are giants again, we'll ride on toward the Potomac."
"Do we reach it to-day, sir?" asked Colonel Talbot.
"Not before to-morrow afternoon, even if we should not be interrupted. This is the enemy's country and we may run at any time into a force as large as our own if not larger."
"Thank you for the information, Colonel Sherburne. My ignorance of geography may appear astonishing to you, although we had to study it very hard at West Point. But I admit my weakness and I add, as perhaps some excuse, that I have lately devoted very little attention to the Northern states. It did not seem worth my time to spend much study on the rivers, and creeks and mountains of what is to be a foreign country--although I may never be able to think of John Carrington and many other of my old friends in the army as the foreigners they're sure to become. Has the thought ever occurred to you, Colonel, that by our victories we're making a tremendous lot of foreigners in America?"
"It has, Colonel Talbot, but I can't say that the thought has ever been a particularly happy one."
"It's the Yankees who are being made into foreigners," said Lieutenant- Colonel St. Hilaire. "The gallant Southern people, of course, remain what they are."
"They're going," said Harry. "They've seen enough of us."
The distant troop disappeared over the crest of the hill. Harry had noticed that Shepard led the way as if he were the ruling spirit, but he did not consider it necessary to say anything to the others about him. The trumpet blew and Sherburne's force, mounting, rode away from the cove. Harry cast one regretful glance back at the splendid fire which still glowed there, and then resigned himself to the cold and rain.
They did not stop again until far in the night. The rain ceased, but the whole earth was sodden and the trees on the low ridge, on which Sherburne camped, dripped with water. Spies might be all around them, but for the sake of physical comfort and the courage that he knew would come with it, he ordered another big fire built. Vigilant riflemen took turns in beating up the forests and fields for possible enemies, but the young officers once more enjoyed the luxury of the fire. Their clothing was dried thoroughly, and their tough and sinewy frames recovered all their strength and elasticity.
"To enjoy being dry it is well to have been wet," said Dalton sententiously.
"That's just like you, you old Presbyterian," said Happy Tom. "I suppose you'll argue next that you can't enjoy Heaven unless you've first burned in the other place for a thousand years."
"There may be something in that," said Dalton gravely, "although the test, of course, would be an extremely severe one."
"I know which way you're headed, George."
"Then tell me, because I don't know myself."
"As soon as this war is over you'll enter the ministry, and no sin will get by you, not even those nice little ones that all of us like to forgive."
"Maybe you're right, Happy, and if I do go into the ministry I shall at once begin long and earnest preparation for the task which would necessarily be the most difficult of my life."
"And may I make so bold as to inquire what it is, George?"
"Your conversion, Happy."
"But why do you want to convert me, George? I'm perfectly happy as I am."
"For your own well being, Tom. Your happiness is nothing to me, but I want to make you good."
Both laughed the easy laugh of youth, but Harry looked long at Dalton. He thought that he detected in him much of the spirit of Stonewall Jackson, and that here was one who had in him the makings of a great minister. The thought lingered with him.
St. Clair was carefully smoothing out his uniform and brushing from it the least particle of mud. His first preoccupation always asserted itself at the earliest opportunity, and in a very short time he was the neatest looking man in the entire force. Harry, although he often jested with him about it, secretly admired this characteristic of St. Clair's.
"You boys sleep while you can," said Sherburne, "because we can't afford to linger in this region. Our safety lies in rapid marching, giving the enemy no chance to gather a large force and trap us. Make the best of your time because we're up and away an hour after midnight."
The young officers were asleep within ten minutes, but the vigilant riflemen patrolled the country in a wide circuit about them. Sherburne himself, although worn by hard riding, slept but little. Anxiety kept his eyes open. He knew that his task to find a passage for the army across the swollen Potomac was of the utmost importance and he meant to achieve it. He understood to the full the dangerous position in which the chief army of the Confederacy stood. His own force might be attacked at any moment by overwhelming numbers and be cut off and destroyed or captured, but he also knew the quality of the men he led, and he believed they were equal to any task.
As he sat by the fire thinking somberly, a figure in the brush no great distance away was watching him. Shepard, the spy, in the darkness had passed with ease between the sentinels, using the skill of an Indian in stalking or approaching, and now, lying well hidden, almost flat upon his stomach, he surveyed the camp. He looked at Sherburne, sitting on a log and brooding, and he made out Harry's figure wrapped in a blanket and lying with his feet to the fire.
Shepard's mind was powerfully affected. An intense patriot, something remote and solitary in his nature had caused him to undertake this most dangerous of all trades, to which he brought an intellectual power and comprehension that few spies possess. As Harry had discovered long since, he was a most uncommon man.
Now Shepard as he gazed at this little group felt no hatred for them or their men. He had devoted his life to the task of keeping the Union intact. His work must be carried out in obscure ways. He could never hope for material reward, and if he perished it would be in some out-of-the-way corner, perhaps at the end of a rope, a man known to so few that there would be none to forget him. And yet his patriotism was so great and of such a fine quality that he viewed his enemies around the fire as his brethren. He felt confident that the armies of the North would bring them back into the Union, and when that occurred they must come as Americans on an equal footing with other Americans. They could not be in the Union and not of it.
But Shepard's feeling for his official enemies would not keep him from acting against them with all the skill, courage and daring that he possessed in such supreme measure. He knew that it was Sherburne's task to open a way for the Army of Northern Virginia to the Potomac and to find a ford, or, in cooperation with some other force, to build a bridge. It was for him to defeat the plan if he could.
While the rain all the day before had brought gloom to the hearts of Sherburne and his men it had filled his with joy, as he thought of the innumerable brooks and creeks that were pouring their swollen waters into the Potomac, already swollen too. He meant now to follow Sherburne's force, see what plan it would attempt, what point, perhaps, it would select for the bridge, and then bring the Union brigades in haste to defeat it.
It is said that men often feel when they are watched, although the watcher is invisible, but it was not so in Sherburne's case. He did not in the least suspect the presence of Shepard or of any foe, and the spy, after he had seen all he wished, withdrew, with the same stealth that had marked his coming.
An hour after midnight all were awakened and they rode away. The next day they reached the Potomac near Williamsport, where their pontoon bridge had been destroyed, and looked upon the wide stream of the Potomac, far too deep for fording.
"If General Lee is attacked on the banks of this river by greatly superior forces," said Sherburne, "he'll have no time to build bridges. If we didn't happen to be victorious our forces would have to scatter into the mountains, where they could be hunted down, man by man."
"But such a thing as that is unthinkable, sir," said Harry. "We may not win always, but here in the East we never lose. Remember Antietam and the river at our back."
"Right you are, Harry," said Sherburne more cheerfully. "The general will get us out of this, and here is where we must cross. The river may run down enough in two or three days to permit of fording. God grant that it will!"
"And so say I!" repeated Harry with emphasis.
"I mean to hold this place for our army," continued Sherburne.
"A reserved seat, so to speak."
"Yes, that's it. We must keep the country cleared until our main force comes up. It shouldn't be difficult. I haven't heard of any considerable body of Union troops between us and the river."
They made camp rapidly in a strong position, built their fires for cooking, set their horses to grazing and awaited what would come. It was a dry, clear night, and Harry, who had no duties, save to ride with a message at the vital moment, looked at once for his friends, the Invincibles.
St. Clair met him and held up a warning hand, while Happy touched his lip with his finger. Before the double injunction of silence and caution, Harry whispered:
"A tragedy," replied St. Clair.
"And a victory, too," said Happy Tom.
"I don't understand," said Harry.
"Then look and you will," said St. Clair.
He pointed to a small clear space in which Colonel Leonidas Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire sat on their blankets facing each other with an empty cracker box between them, upon which their chess men were spread. The firelight plainly revealed a look of dismay upon the face of Colonel Talbot, and with equal plainness a triumphant expression upon that of Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire.
"Colonel Talbot has lost his remaining knight," whispered St. Clair. "I don't know how it came about, but when the event occurred we heard them both utter a cry. Listen!"
"I fail even yet, Hector, to see just how it occurred." said Colonel Talbot.
"But it has occurred, Leonidas, and that's the main thing. A general in battle does not always know how he is whipped, but the whipping hurts just as much."
"You should not show too much elation over your triumph, Hector. Remember that he laughs best who laughs last."
"I take my laugh whenever I can, Leonidas, because no one knows who is going to laugh last. It may be that he who laughs in the present will also laugh at the end. What do you mean by that move, Leonidas?"
"That to you is a mystery, Hector. It's like one of Stonewall Jackson's flanking marches, and in due time the secret will be revealed with terrible results."
"Pshaw, Leonidas, you can't frighten a veteran like me. That for your move, and here's mine in reply."
The two gray heads bent lower over the board as the colonels made move after move. The youths standing in the shadow of the trees watched until the second time that night the two uttered a simultaneous cry. But they were very different in quality. Now Colonel Talbot's expressed victory and Lieutenant-Colonel St. Hilaire's consternation.
"Your bishop, Hector!" exclaimed Colonel Talbot. "Pious and able gentleman as he is, an honor to his cloth, he is nevertheless my captive."
"I admit that it was most unexpected, Leonidas. You have matched my victory with one of yours. It was indeed most skillful and I don't yet see what led to it."
"Did I not warn you a little while ago that you couldn't frighten me? I prepared a trap for you, and thus I rise from defeat to victory."
"At any rate we are about even on the evening's work, Leonidas, and we have made more progress than for the whole six months preceding. It seems likely now that we can finish our game soon."
A sudden crash of rifle fire toward the east and from a point not distant told them no. They rose to their feet, but they put the chessmen away very deliberately, while the young officers hastened to their posts. The fire continued and spread about them in a half circle, accompanied now and then by the deeper note of a light field gun. Sherburne made his dispositions rapidly. All the men remained on foot, but a certain number were told off to hold the horses in the center of the camp.
"We're attacked by a large force," said Sherburne, "Our scouts gave us warning in time. Evidently they wish to drive us away from here because this will be the ford in case the river falls in time."
"Then you look for a sharp fight?"
"Without question. And remember that you're to avoid all risk if you can. It's not your business to get shot here, but it is your business, and your highly important business, to ride back to General Lee with the news of what's happening. In order to do that it's necessary for you to remain alive."
"I obey orders," said Harry reluctantly.
"Of course you do. Keep back with the men who are holding the horses. That fire is growing fast! I'm glad we were able to find a camp so defensible as this hill."
He hurried away to watch his lines and Harry remained at his station near the horses, where Dalton was compelled by the same responsibility to stay with him. It was the first time that Harry had been forced to remain a mere spectator of a battle raging around him, and while not one who sought danger for danger's sake, it was hard work to control himself and remain quiet and unmoved.
"I suspect they're trying to cut us off completely from our own army," he said to Dalton.
"Seems likely to me, too," said Dalton. "Wipe us out here, and hold the river for themselves. Our scouts assured us that there was no large force of the enemy in this region. It must have been gathered in great haste."
"In whatever way it was gathered, it's here, that's sure."
There was a good moon now, and, using his glasses, Harry saw many details of the battle. The attack was being pressed with great vigor and courage. He saw in a valley numerous bodies of cavalry, firing their carbines, and he saw two batteries, of eight light guns each, move forward for a better range. Soon their shells were exploding near the hill on which Harry stood, and the fire of the rifles, unbroken now, grew rapidly in volume.
But the men under Sherburne, youthful though most of them might be, were veterans. They knew every trick of war, and columns of infantry swept forward to meet the attack, preceded by the skirmishers, who took heavy toll of the foe.
"If they'd been able to make it a surprise they might have rushed us," said Harry.
"Nobody catches Sherburne sleeping," said Dalton.
"That's true, and because they can't they won't be able to overcome him here. Now there go our rifles! Listen to that crash. I fancy that about a thousand were fired together, and they weren't fired for nothing."
"No," said Dalton, "but the Yankees don't give way. You can see by their line of fire that they're still coming. Look there! A powerful body of horse is charging!"
It was unusual to see cavalry attack at night, and the spectacle was remarkable, as the moonlight fell on the raised sabers. But the defiant rebel yell, long and fierce, rose from the thicket, and, as the rifles crashed, the entire front of the charging column was burned away, as if by a stroke of lightning. But after a moment of hesitation they came on, only to ride deeper into a rifle fire which emptied saddles so fast that they were at last compelled to turn and gallop away.
"Brave men," said Harry. "A gallant charge, but it had to meet too many Southern rifles, aimed by men who know how to shoot."
"But their infantry are advancing through that wood," said Dalton. "Hear them cheering above the rifle fire!"
The Northern shout rang through the forest, and the rebel yell, again full of defiance, replied. The cavalry had been driven off, but the infantry and artillery were far from beaten. The sixteen guns of the two batteries were massed on a hill and they began to sweep the Southern lines with a storm of shells and shrapnel. The forest and the dark were no protection, because the guns searched every point of the Southern line with their fire. Sherburne's men were forced to give ground, before cannon served with such deadly effect.
"What will the colonel do?" asked Dalton. "The big guns give the Yankees the advantage."
"He'll go straight to the heart of the trouble," said Harry. "He'll attack the guns themselves."
He did not know actually in what manner Sherburne would proceed, but he was quite sure that such would be his course. The wary Southern leader instantly detailed a swarm of his best riflemen to creep through the woods toward the cannon. In a few minutes the gunners themselves were under the fire of hidden marksmen who shot surpassingly well. The gunners, the cannoneers, the spongers, the rammers and the ammunition passers were cut down with deadly certainty.
The captain of the guns, knowing that the terrible rifle fire was coming from the thickets, deluged the woods and bushes with shells and shrapnel, but the riflemen lay close, hugging the ground, and although a few were killed and more wounded, the vast majority crept closer and closer, shooting straight and true in the moonlight. The fire from the batteries became scattered and wild. Their crews were cut down so fast that not enough men were left to work the guns, and their commander reluctantly gave the order to withdraw to a less exposed position.
"Rifles triumphant over artillery," said Harry, who studied everything through his glasses; "but of course the dusk helped the riflemen."
"That's true," said Dalton, "but it takes good men like Sherburne to use the favoring chances. Now our boys are charging!"
The tremendous rebel yell swelled through the forest, and the Southern infantry rushed to the attack. Harry saw that the charge was successful, and his ears told him so too. The firing moved further and further away, and soon declined in volume.
"They've been beaten off," said Harry.
"At least for the time," said Dalton, "but I've an idea they'll hang on our front and may attack again in a day or so."
"How then are you and I to get through and tell General Lee that this is the place to bridge the Potomac, if it's to be bridged at all?"
Dalton shook his head.
"I don't know," he replied, "and I won't think about it until Colonel Sherburne gives his orders."
The sounds of battle died in the distant woods. The last shot, whether from cannon or rifle, was fired, and the Southern troops returned to their positions, which they began to fortify strongly. Sherburne appeared presently, his uniform cut by bullets in two or three places, but his body untouched. He drew Harry and Dalton aside, where their words could not be heard by anybody else.
"You two," he said, "were to report to General Lee when I thought fit. Well, the time has come; Harry, you go first, and, at a suitable moment, George will follow. We have news of surpassing importance. We took a number of prisoners in that battle and we were also lucky enough to rescue several of our men who had been held as captives. We've learned from them that General Meade, after making up his mind to pursue, followed straight behind us for a while, but he has now turned and gone southward in the direction of Frederick. He will cross South Mountain, advance toward Sharpsburg, and attempt to smash us here, with our backs to this swollen river. Why, some of the Federal leaders consider the Army of Northern Virginia as good as destroyed already!"
He spoke with angry emphasis.
"But it isn't," said Harry.
"No, it isn't. Doubtless General Lee will learn from scouts of his own of General Meade's flanking movement, but we mustn't take the chance. Moreover, we must tell him that this is the place for our army to cross. If the river runs down in two or three days we'll have a ford here."
"I'm ready to go at any moment," said Harry. "Night helping me, I may be able to ride through the lines of our enemies out there."
"No, Harry, you must not go that way. They're so vigilant that you would not have any possible chance. Nor can you ride. You must leave your horse behind."
"What way then must I go, sir?"
"By the river. We have gathered up a few small boats, used at the crossing here. You can row, can't you?"
"Fairly well, sir."
"'Twill do, because you're not to stay in the boat long. I want you to drop down the stream until you're well beyond the Federal lines. Then leave the boat and strike out across the country for General Lee. You know the way. You can buy or seize a horse, and you must not fail."
"I will not fail," said Harry confidently.
"You'll succeed if anybody will, and now you must be off. Your pistols are loaded, Harry? You may have to use them."
They did not delay a minute, going down the shelving shore to the Potomac, where a man held a small boat against the bank.
"Get in, Harry," said Sherburne. "You'd better drop down three or four miles, at least. Good-by and good luck."
He shook hands with his colonel and Dalton, took the oars and pulled far out into the stream.