The Shades of the Wilderness by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter IV. A Herald to Lee
When he swept out upon the sullen bosom of the Potomac, Harry looked back only once. He saw two dim figures going up the bank, and, at its crest, a line of lights that showed the presence of the Southern force. There was no sound of firing, and he judged that the enemy had withdrawn to a distance of two or three miles.
The night had turned darker since the battle ceased, and not many stars were out. Clouds indicated that flurries of rain might come, but he did not view them now with apprehension. Darkness and rain would help a herald to Lee. The current was strong, and he did not have to pull hard, but, observing presently that the far shore was fringed with bushes, he sent the boat into their shadow.
He did not anticipate any danger from the southern shore, but the old inherited caution of the forest runners was strong within him. Under the hanging bushes he was well hidden, but, in some places, the flood in the river had turned the current back upon itself, and he was compelled to pull with vigor on the oars.
The clouds that had threatened did not develop much, and while the forests were dark, the surface of the river showed clearly in the faint moonlight. Any object upon it could be seen from either bank, and Harry was glad that he had sought the shelter of the overhanging bushes. He realized now that in this region, which was really the theater of war, many scouts and skirmishers must be about.
The bank above him was rather high and quite steep, for which he was glad, as it afforded protection. A half mile farther down he came to the mouth of a creek coming in from the South, and just as he passed it he heard voices on the bank. He held his boat among the bushes on the cliff and listened. Several men were talking, but he judged them to be farmers, not soldiers. Yet they talked of the battle that night, and Harry surmised that they were looking at the lights in the Southern camp which might yet be visible from the high point on which they stood. He could not gather from their words whether they were Northern or Southern sympathizers, but it did not matter, as he had no intention of speaking to them, hoping only that they would go away in a few minutes and let him continue his journey unseen.
His hope speedily came to pass. He heard their voices sinking in the distance, and leaving the shelter of the bushes he pulled down the stream once more. Then he found that he had deceived himself about the clouds. If they had retired, they had merely recoiled, to use the French phrase, in order to gather again with greater force.
During his short stay among the bushes at the foot of the cliff the whole heavens had blackened and the air was surcharged with the heavy damp and tensity that betoken a coming storm. The lightning blazed across the river thrice, and he heard a mutter which was not that of cannon. Then came rain and a rushing wind and the surface of the river was troubled grievously. It rose up in waves like those of a lake, and Harry's boat rocked and tumbled so badly that in a few minutes it was half-full of water.
Fearing he might sink, carrying with him his great message, he pulled again, but fiercely now, for the southern bank and the shelter of the bushes, which, fortunately for him, grew here in the water's edge. He shoved his boat with all his might among them, as their tops snapped and crackled in the hurricane. But he knew he was safe there, and he continued to push until it reached the edge of the land.
The river would be swollen by another storm, but for the present it did not bother him greatly. He was more immediately concerned with his wish to get back to Lee as soon as possible, and he was grateful for that dense clump of bushes, growing in the very water's edge, because the wind was blowing like a hurricane and the waves were chasing one another on the Potomac, like the billows on a lake. He was a fair oarsman, but it would have taken greater skill than his to have kept his boat afloat in the tempestuous river.
The bushes formed an absolute protection. His boat swayed with them, which saved it from being damaged, and the overhanging lee of the cliff kept most of the rain from him. He also wrapped about his body the pair of blankets that he always carried, and he sat there not only in safety, but with a certain physical pleasure.
Once more amid surroundings with the like of which Henry Ware had been so familiar, the soul of his great ancestor seemed to have descended upon him. Most young officers, no matter how brave or how skilled in war, would have been awed and alarmed. He had no comrades at his elbow. There was no light, no friendly sound to encourage him, he was as truly alone, so far as his present situation was concerned, as any pioneer had ever been in the heart of the wilderness. But for him there was pleasure at that moment in being alone. He did not quiver when the thunder rolled and crashed above his head, and the lightning blazed in one Titanic sword slash after another across the surface of the river. Rather, the wilderness and majesty of the scene appealed to him. Leaning well back in his boat with his blankets closely wrapped about him, he watched it, and his soul rose with the storm.
Harry knew from its sudden violence that the rain would soon pass, and if the waves abated a little he would certainly take his boat into the river and try his fortunes again. Yet a precious hour was lost, and nothing could replace it. The thunder ceased by and by and there was only dim lightning on the far horizon. The waves began to abate, and, taking off his blankets, he pushed his boat once more into the stream.
It rocked prodigiously and shipped water, but by strenuous effort he kept it afloat, and as the wind sank still further he decided that he would seek the northern shore and disembark as soon as possible. It would be easier to steal through the thickets than to navigate what amounted to a wild sea. But the banks were yet too high and steep for a landing, and he continued to row, keeping now near the middle of the stream.
Wind and rain were dying fast, and he heard a sound behind uncommonly like the distant swish of oars. It sent an unpleasant thrill through him, because he wished to be alone on the river at that particular time, but his eyes, tracing a course through all the dusk and gloom, rested upon another boat, about two hundred yards away, containing a single occupant.
A farmer or a riverman, Harry thought, but to his great astonishment the man suddenly raised himself up a little and shouted to him in a tremendous voice to halt. Harry had not the least idea of stopping for anybody. He bent to his oars and rowed swiftly on. Again came that shout to halt, and it seemed more insolent to him than before. He put a few more ounces of strength into his arms and shoulders and increased his speed.
The pursuer, suddenly drawing in his oars, raised a rifle from the bottom of his boat, and fired point blank at the fugitive. The bullet whistled so near Harry that he felt his ear burn, and at first thought he was hit. He would have been glad to fire back, but his pistols could not carry like his enemy's rifle, and there was nothing to do but flee. Once again he sought to draw a few more ounces of energy from his body. But the man behind him was a much greater oarsman than he and gained rapidly. The stranger, shouting another command to halt, to which no attention was paid, fired a second time, and the bullet went through the side of Harry's boat, barely scraping his knee as it passed.
His rage became intense. He had been shot at many times in battle, and many times he had fired his pistols into the opposing masses, but here upon this river a man sought his life, as the savages of old sought the hunter. Another glance showed him that pursuer had closed up half the distance between them, and, snatching one of the pistols from his belt, he fired. He knew that he had missed, as he saw the water spurt up beside the boat, but he thought that his bullet and the probability of more might delay the pursuit. Nevertheless the man came on as boldly and as fast as ever. If he fired a third time he could scarcely miss at such short range.
It seemed to Harry the gift of Heaven, that a whole pack of clouds should drift above them at that moment, deepening the obscurity and making the pursuing boat, although it was so near, a shapeless form in the mist. He could not see the features of the man, but he was able to discern his large and powerful figure, and he noticed the rhythmic manner in which his arms and shoulders worked at the oars. Obviously he had no chance to escape him by flight, and drawing his second pistol he fired. The bullet struck the boat but did no damage. The man came on faster than ever. Harry took a desperate resolution, and, whirling his boat about, he rowed it straight at his pursuer, who was now almost level with him. He intended to ram and take his chances. His movement was so quick and unexpected that it succeeded. The bow of his boat, helped perhaps by a wave, struck the other with such violence that both were shattered and sank instantly.
Harry went down with his craft, but in a few seconds came up again, his mouth and eyes full of muddy water. He was a splendid swimmer, and his eyes clearing in a moment he looked toward the northern shore, seeking an easy place for landing. They encountered ten feet away a large sun-browned face and two burning eyes.
"Shepard!" Harry gasped.
"And so it was you, Lieutenant Kenton. Perhaps if I had known it was you I wouldn't have fired upon you."
"Don't let that deter you. We're enemies."
"I merely said 'perhaps!' I like you, but that wouldn't keep me from stopping you by any method I could from reaching Lee."
"I'm sure it wouldn't. I like you, too, Mr. Shepard, but we're enemies here in this river, deadly enemies, and I mean to beat you off."
"One may mean to do a thing and yet not do it. I'm the larger and the more powerful. Besides, I'm toughened by superior age. You'd better surrender, Mr. Kenton. I don't want to do you any bodily harm."
"I admit that you're larger and stronger, but on land only. I'm the better swimmer. We're both floating now, but if you'll make a comparison, Mr. Shepard, you'll find that I'm doing it with the greatest ease. Take my advice, and swim to the southern bank of the river while I go to the northern. I say it in all good faith."
"I've no doubt of that, but the young are likely to over-estimate their powers. I'm a good swimmer, and you can't escape me."
"The important point is not whether I can escape you, but whether you can escape me. Since you have lost your boat and your rifle and we're in such a treacherous and unstable element as water, I occupy the superior position. The young may indeed over-estimate their powers, but in swimming at least I'm a competent critic. For instance, you're holding your shoulders too high, and you kick too much. You're splashing water, a useless waste of energy. Now observe me. The surface of this river is rough. Little waves are yet running upon it, but I float as easily as a fish, come up to see by the moon what time it is. It is not egotism on my part, merely a recognition of the facts, but I warn you, Mr. Shepard, to swim to the other shore and let me alone."
The two were not ten feet apart, and, despite the lightness of their talk, their eyes burned with eagerness and intensity. Harry knew that Shepard would not dream of turning back. Yet in the water he awaited the result with a confidence that he would not have felt on land.
"It's your move, Mr. Shepard," he said.
The intensity of Shepard's gaze increased, and Harry never took his eyes from those of his enemy. He intended like a prize fighter to read there what the man's next effort would be.
"I don't see that it's my move," said Shepard, as he floated calmly.
"You're following me for the purpose of capturing me."
"To capture you, or delay you. Meanwhile, it seems to me that I'm delaying you very successfully. I can't see that you're making much progress towards Lee."
"That depends upon which way this river is flowing. You note that we float gently with the stream."
"It's a poor argument. The Potomac flows directly by Washington, and if we were to float on we'd float into the heart of great Northern fortresses instead of Lee's camp."
"That's true as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. I'm leaving the river soon. You can have it all then."
"Thanks, but I think I'll go with you, Lieutenant Kenton."
"Then come to the bottom!" exclaimed Harry, as he dived forward like a flash, seized Shepard by the ankles and headed for the bottom of the river with him. The water gurgled in his eyes and ears and nose, but he held on for many seconds, despite the man's desperate struggles. Then he was forced to let go and rise.
As his head shot above the stream he saw another shooting up in the same manner about fifteen feet away. Both were choked and gasping, but Harry managed to say:
"I didn't intend for you to come up so soon."
"I suppose not, but perhaps you didn't pause to think that when you rose I'd rise with you."
"Yes, that's true. It seems to me that matters grow complicated. Can't you persuade yourself, Mr. Shepard, to go and leave me alone? I really have no use for you here."
"I'd like to oblige you, Lieutenant Kenton, but I intend to see that you don't reach General Lee."
"Still harping upon that? It seems to me that you're a stupidly stubborn man. Don't you know that I'm going anyhow?"
Harry had never ceased to watch his eyes, and he saw there the signal of a coming movement. Shepard dived suddenly for him, intending to repeat his own trick, but the youth was like a fish in the water, and he darted to the right. The man came up grasping nothing. Harry laughed. The chagrin of Shepard compelled his amusement, although he liked the man.
"I wish you'd go away, Mr. Shepard," he said. "On land you could, perhaps, overpower me, but in the water I think I'm your master. All through my boyhood I devoted a great deal of my time to swimming. Dr. Russell of the Pendleton Academy--but you never knew him--used to say that if I would swim less and study more I could make greater pretensions to scholarship."
Shepard, swimming rather easily, regarded him thoughtfully.
"While we talk to each other in this more or less polite manner, Mr. Kenton," he said, "we must not forget that we're in deadly earnest. I mean to take you, and our scouts mean to take every other messenger who goes out from Colonel Sherburne's camp. You know, and I know, that if the Army of Northern Virginia does not reach in a few days that camp, where there is a ford in ordinary weather, it will be driven up against the Potomac and we can accumulate such great forces against it that it cannot possibly escape. Even at Sherburne's place its escape is more than doubtful, if it has to linger long."
"Yes, I know these things quite well, Mr. Shepard. I know also, as you do, that General Meade's army is not in direct pursuit, and, that in a flanking movement, he is advancing across South Mountain and toward Sharpsburg. It is a march well calculated and extremely dangerous to General Lee, if he does not hear of it in time. But he will hear of it soon enough. A comrade of mine, George Dalton, will tell him. Others from Colonel Sherburne's camp will tell him, and I mean to tell him too. I hope to be the first to do so."
Harry never deceived himself for a moment. He knew that although Shepard liked him, he would go to the uttermost to stop him, and as for himself, while he had a friendly feeling for the spy, he meant to use every weapon he could against him. Realizing that he could not linger much longer, as the chill of the water was already entering his body, he swam closer to Shepard, still staring directly into his eyes. How thankful he was now for those innumerable swimmings in the little river that ran near Pendleton! Everything learned well justifies itself some day.
Although there was but little moonlight they were so close together that they could see the eyes of each other clearly, and Harry detected a trace of uneasiness in those of Shepard. A good swimmer, the water nevertheless was not his element, and although a man of great physique and extraordinary powers, he longed for the solid earth under his feet.
Harry drew himself together as if he were going to dive, but instead of doing so suddenly raised himself in the water and shot forth his clenched tight fist with all his might. Shepard was taken completely by surprise and he sank back under the water, leaving a blood stain on its surface. Harry watched anxiously, but Shepard came up again in a moment or two, gasping and swimming wildly. The point of his jaw was presented fairly and Harry struck again as hard as he could in the water. Shepard with a choked cry went under and Harry, diving forward, seized his body, bringing it to the surface.
Shepard was senseless, but getting an arm under his shoulders Harry was able to swim with him to the northern shore, although it took nearly all his strength. Then he dragged him out upon the bank, and sank down, panting, beside him.
The great Civil War in America, the greatest of all wars until nearly all the nations of Europe joined in a common slaughter, was a humane war compared with other wars approaching it in magnitude. It did not occur to Harry to let Shepard drown, nor did he leave him senseless on the bank. As soon as his own strength returned he dragged him into a half-sitting position, and rubbed the palms of his hands. The spy opened his eyes.
"Good-by, Mr. Shepard," said Harry. "I'm bound to leave before you recover fully because then I wouldn't be your match. I'm sorry I had to hit you so hard, but there was nothing else to do."
"I don't blame you. It was man against man."
"The water was in my favor. I'm bound to admit that on land you'd have won."
"At any rate I thank you for dragging me out of the river."
"You'd have done as much for me."
"So I would, but our personal debts of gratitude can't be allowed to interfere with our military duty."
"I know it. Therefore I take a running start. Good-by."
"We'll meet again."
"But not on this side of the Potomac. It may happen when the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac go into battle on the other side of the river."
Harry darted into the forest, and ran for a half-hour. He meant to put as much distance as possible between Shepard and himself before the latter's full strength returned. He knew that Shepard would follow, if he could, but it was not possible to trail one who had a long start through dark and wet woods.
He came through the forest and into a meadow surrounded by a rail fence, on which he sat until his breath came back again. He had forgotten all about his wet uniform, but the run was really beneficial to him as it sent the blood leaping through his veins and warmed his body.
"So far have I come," said Harry, "but the omens promise a hard march."
He had his course fixed very clearly, and a veteran now in experience, he could guide himself easily by the moon and stars. The clouds were clearing away and a warm wind promised him dry clothing, soon. Long afterward he thought it a strange coincidence that his cousin, Dick Mason, in the far South should have been engaged upon an errand very similar in nature, but different in incident.
He crossed the meadow, entered an orchard and then came to a narrow road. The presence of the orchard indicated the proximity of a farmhouse, and it occurred to Harry that he might buy a horse there. The farmer was likely to be hostile, but risks must be taken. He drew his pistols. He knew that neither could be fired after the thorough wetting in the river, but the farmer would not know that. He saw the house presently, a comfortable two-story frame building, standing among fine shade trees. Without hesitation he knocked heavily on the door with the butt of a pistol.
He was so anxious to hasten that his blows would have aroused the best sleeper who ever slept, and the door was quickly opened by an elderly man, not yet fully awake.
"I want to buy a horse."
"Buy a horse? At this time of the night?"
He was about to slam the door, but Harry put his foot over the sill and the muzzle of his pistol within six inches of the man's nose.
"I want to buy a horse," he repeated, "and you want to sell one to me. I think you realize that fact, don't you?"
"Yes, I do," replied the man, looking down the muzzle of the big horse pistol.
"Come outside and close the door behind you. I know you haven't on many clothes, but the night's warm, and you need fresh air."
The man with the muzzle of the pistol still near his nose, obeyed. But as he looked at the weapon he also had a comprehensive view of the one who held it.
"Wet ain't you?" he said.
"Do you think it necessary to put it in the form of a question?"
"I don't like to say, unless I'm shore."
"Where do you keep your horses?"
"In the barn here to the left. What kind of a horse did you think you'd keer fur most, stranger?"
"The biggest, the strongest and fastest you've got"
"I thought mebbe you'd want one with wings, you 'pear to be in such a pow'ful hurry. I wish you wouldn't keep that pistol so near to my nose. 'Sides, you've gethered so much mud an' water 'bout you that you ain't so very purty to look at!"
"It's your own mud and water. I didn't bring it into this country with me."
"Which means that you don't belong in these parts. I reckon lookin' at you that you wuz one o' them rebels that went to Gettysburg and then come back ag'in."
"Exactly right, Mr. Farmer. I'm an officer in General Lee's army."
"Then I wuz right 'bout you needin' a horse with wings. An' I guess all the men in your army need horses with wings. Don't be in such a tarnal hurry. You're goin' to stay right up here with us, boarders, so to speak, till the war is over."
"Kind of you," he said, "but here is the stable and do you open the stall doors one by one, and let me see the horses. At the first sign of any trick I pull the trigger."
"Well, as I don't like violence I'll show you the horses. Here's the gray mare, five years old, swift but can't last long. This is old Rube, nigh onto ten, mighty strong, but as balky as a Johnny Reb hisself. Don't want him! No? Then I think that's about all."
"No it's not! You open that last stall door at once!"
The farmer made a wry face, and threw back the door with a slam. Harry still covering the man with the pistol that couldn't go off, saw a splendid bay horse about four years old.
"Holding out on me, were you?" he said. "Did you think a Confederate officer could be fooled in that manner?"
"I reckon I oughtn't to have thought so. I've always heard that the rebels had mighty good eyes for Yankee horseflesh."
"I'll let that pass, because maybe it's true. Now, saddle and bridle him quicker than ever before in your life."
The farmer did so, and Harry took care to see that the girth was secure.
"At how much did you value this horse?" he asked.
"I did put him down at two hundred dollars, but I reckon he's worth nothin' to me now."
"Here's your money. When General Lee goes through the enemy's country he pays for what he takes."
He thrust a roll of good United States bills into the astonished man's hand, and sprang upon the horse. Then he turned from the stable and rode swiftly up the road, but not so swiftly that he did not hear a bullet singing past his ears. A backward glance showed him an elderly farmer in his night clothes standing on his porch and reloading his rifle.
"Well, I can't blame you, I suppose," said Harry. "You can guess pretty well what I am, and it's your business to stop me."
But he rode fast enough to be far beyond the range of a second bullet, and maintained a good pace for a long time, through hilly and wooded country. His uniform dried upon him, and his hardy form felt no ill result from the struggle in the river. The horse was strong and spirited, and Harry knew that he could carry him without weariness to Lee. He looked upon his mission as already accomplished, but his ambition to reach the commander-in-chief first was yet strong.
He rode throughout the rest of the night and dawn and the pangs of hunger came together. But he decided that he would not turn from his path to seek food. He would go on straight for Lee and let hunger have its way. He had a splendid horse under him and he was faring quite as well as he had a right to expect. He thought of Shepard, and felt pity for him. The man had only striven to do his duty, and while he had used force he had been very courteous and polite about it. Harry was bound to acknowledge that his had been a very chivalrous enemy and only his superiority in swimming had enabled him to win over Shepard. He was glad that he had saved him and had left him on the bank, so to speak, to dry.
Then Shepard faded away with the mists and vapors that were retreating before a brilliant dawn. The country was high, rolling, and the foliage, although much browned by the July sun, which was unusually hot that year, was still dense. Most of the hills were heavy with forest, but all the valleys between were fertile and well cultivated. With the dew of the morning fresh upon it the whole region was refreshing and soothing to the eye with a look of peace, where in reality there was no peace. Many thin columns of smoke lying blue against the silver sky told where farmhouses stood, and hunger suddenly seized upon Harry again.
Hunger is natural to youth, and his severe exertions all through the night had greatly increased it. It became both a pain and a weakness. His shoulders drooped with fatigue, and he felt that he must have food or faint by the way.
He was ashamed of his physical weakness, but he knew that unless he found food his faintness would increase, and hunger alone would stop him, where so able a man as Shepard could not. His uniform, faded anyhow, was so permeated with the dried mud of the river that it would take a keen eye to tell whether it was Federal or Confederate, and he need not disclose his identity in this region, which was so strongly for the Union. He made up his mind quickly and rode for the nearest farmhouse.
Harry knew that he was inviting risks. His pistols were still useless but they would be handy for threats, and he should be able to take care of himself at a farmhouse.
The house that he had chosen was only a few hundred yards away, its white walls visible among trees, and the clatter of his horse's hoofs brought a man from a barn in the rear. Harry noted him keenly. He was youngish, stalwart and the look out of his blue eyes was fearless. He came forward slowly, examining his visitor, and his manner was not altogether hospitable. Harry decided that he had to deal with a difficult customer but he had no idea of turning back.
"Good morning," he said politely.
"I wish some breakfast and I will pay. I've ridden all night in our service."
"You've so much dried mud on you that you look as if you'd been passin' through a river."
"Correct. That's exactly what happened."
"But there's none on your horse."
"He didn't pass with me. I'm willing to answer any reasonable number of questions, but, as I told you before, I ride on an important service. I must have breakfast at once, and I'll pay."
"Whose service? Ours or Reb's?"
"A military messenger can't answer the chance questions of those by the roadside. I tell you I want breakfast at once."
"Fine horse you ride, stranger. How long have you had him?"
"All this year."
"Funny. When I saw him last week he belonged to Jim Kendall down by the Potomac, an' livin' on this very road, too."
"It isn't half as funny as you think. Hands up! Now call to your wife as loud as you can to bring me coffee and food at the gate! I know they're ready in the kitchen. I can smell 'em here. Out with it, call as fast as and as loud as you can, or off goes the top of your head!"
Although a horse pistol held in a firm hand was thrust under his nose, the man's blue eyes glared hate and defiance, and his mouth did not open. Harry, in his excitement and anger, forgot that the charge in his weapon was ruined and hence it was no acting with him when his own eyes blazed down at the other and he fairly shouted:
"I give you until I can count ten to call your wife! One! two! three! four! five! six! seven! eight! nine!--"
"Sophy! Sophy!" cried the farmer, who saw death flaming in the eyes that looked into his, "Come! Come a-runnin'!"
A good looking young woman threw open a door and ran, frightened, toward the gate, where she saw her husband under the pistol muzzle of a wild and savage looking man on horseback.
"Sophy," said the farmer, "bring this infernal rebel a cup of coffee and a plate of bread and meat. If it weren't for his pistol I'd drag him off his horse and carry him to General Meade, but he's got the drop on me!"
"And Sophy," said Harry, who was growing cooler, "you make it a big tin cup of coffee and you see that the plate is piled high with meat and bread. Now don't you make one mistake. Don't you come back with any weapon in your hand in place of food, and don't you fire on me from the house with the family rifle. You're young and you're good looking, and, doubtless the widow of our friend here with the upraised hands, wouldn't have to wait long for another husband just as good as he is."
The woman paled a little, and Harry knew that some thought of the family rifle had been in her mind. The husband's glare became ferocious.
"You can take your hands down," said Harry. "I've no wish to torture you, and I'm satisfied now that you're not armed."
The man dropped his arms and the woman hurried to the kitchen. Harry did not watch her, but kept his eyes continually upon the man, who he knew would take advantage of his first careless moment, and spring for him like a tiger. A pistol that he couldn't fire wouldn't be of much use to him then.
But the woman returned with a big tin cup of smoking coffee and a plate piled high with bread and bacon and beefsteak. It was a welcome sight. The aspect of the whole world became brighter at once, and the pulse of hope beat high. But happiness did not make him relax caution.
"Stand back about ten feet more," he said to the man, "I don't like your looks."
"What's the matter with my looks?"
"It's not exactly your looks I mean, though they're scarcely worthy of the lady, your wife, but it's rather your attitude or position which reminds me of a lion or a tiger about to spring upon something it hates."
The man, with a savage growl, withdrew a little.
"I'd like to put a bullet through you," he said.
"I've no doubt of it, your eyes show it, but before I take a polite leave of you I want to tell you that I did not steal this horse from your friend, Jim Kendall. I paid for it at his own valuation."
"Confederate money that won't be worth a dollar a bale before long."
"Oh, no, bills that were made and stamped at Washington, and I pay for this breakfast in silver."
He dropped it into the hand of the woman, as he took the huge cup of coffee from her. Then he drank deep and long, and again and again, draining the last drop of the brown liquid.
"I hope it's burnt the lining out of your throat," said the man savagely.
"It was warm, but I like it that way. It was good indeed, and I'm sorry, Madame, that you have such a violent and ill-tempered husband. Maybe your next will be a much better man."
"John is neither violent nor ill-tempered. He's never said a harsh word to me since we were married. But he hates the rebels dreadfully."
"That's too bad. I don't hate him and I'm glad you can give him a good character. A man's own wife knows best. Now, I'm going to eat this breakfast as I ride on. You'll find the plate on the fence a quarter of a mile ahead."
He bowed to both, and still keeping a wary eye on the man, thrust his pistol into his belt, and as his horse moved forward at a swift and easy gait he began to eat with a ravenous appetite.
A backward glance showed husband and wife still gazing at him. But it was only for a moment. They ran into the house and a little further on Harry looked back again. They had reappeared and he almost expected to hear again the whistle of a rifle shot, fired from a window. But the distance was much too great, and he devoted renewed attention to the demands of hunger.
When he had finished his breakfast he put the plate upon the fence as he had promised, and, looking back for the last time, he saw an American flag wave to and fro on the roof of the house. He felt a thrill of alarm. It must be a signal concerning him and it could be made only to his enemies. Speaking sharply to his horse, he urged him into a gallop.