The Rock of Chickamauga by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter IX. The Open Door
"Dick," said Colonel Winchester the next morning, "I think you are the best scout and trailer among my young officers. Mr. Pennington, you are probably the best on the plains, and I've no doubt, Warner, that you would do well in the mountains, but for the hills, forests and rivers I'll have to choose Dick. I've another errand for you, my boy. You're to go on foot, and you're to take this dispatch to Admiral Porter, who commands the iron-clads in the river near the city. Conceal it carefully about you, but I anticipate no great danger for you, as Vicksburg is pretty well surrounded by our forces."
The dispatch was written on thin, oiled paper. Dick hid it away in the lining of his coat and departed upon another important mission, full of pride that he should be chosen for it. He had all the passwords and carried two good pistols in his belt. Rich in experience, he felt able to care for himself, even should the peril be greater than Colonel Winchester had expected.
The sun was not far above the horizon but it was warm and brilliant, and it lighted up the earth, throwing a golden glow over the plateau of Vicksburg, the great maze of ravines and thickets and the many waters.
He passed along the lines, walking rapidly southward, and saw more than one officer of his acquaintance. Hertford's cavalry were in a field, and the colonel himself sat on a portion of the rail fence that had enclosed it. He hailed the lad pleasantly.
"Into the forest again, Dick," he said.
"Not this time, sir," Dick replied. "It's just a little trip, down the river."
"Success to the trip and a speedy return."
Dick nodded and walked on. He was quite sure that his dispatch was an order from Grant for Porter to come up the stream and join in a general attack which everybody felt sure was planned for an early date.
As he passed through the regiments and brigades he received much good-humored chaff. The great war of America differed widely from the great wars of Europe. The officers and men were more nearly on a plane of equality. The vast majority of them had been volunteers in the beginning and perhaps this feeling of comradeship made them fight all the better. North and South were alike in it.
"Which way, sonny?" called a voice from a group. "You don't find the fighting down there. It's back toward Vicksburg."
Dick nodded and smiled.
"Maybe he's out walking for exercise. These officers ride too much."
Dick walked on with a steady swinging step. He regarded the sunbrowned, careless youths with the genuine affection of a brother. Many of them were as young as he or younger, but they were now veterans of battle and march. Napoleon's soldiers themselves could not have boasted of more experience than they.
He was coming to the last link in the steel chain, and the colonel of a regiment, an old man, warned him to be careful as he approached the river.
"Southern sharpshooters are among the ravines and thickets," he said. "They fired on our lads about dawn and then escaped easily in the thick cover."
"Thank you, sir," said Dick, "I'll be on my guard." Yet he did not feel the presence of danger. Youth perhaps becomes more easily hardened in war than middle age, or perhaps it thinks less of consequences. The Union cannon, many of great weight and power, had begun already to fire upon Vicksburg. Huge shells and shot were rained upon the city. Pemberton had two hundred guns facing the river and the army, but to spare his ammunition they made little reply.
Dick looked back now and then. He saw flakes of fire on the northern horizon, puffs of smoke and the curving shells. He felt that Vicksburg was no pleasant place to be in just now, and yet it must be full of civilians, many of them women and children. He was sorry for them. It was Dick's nature to see both sides of a quarrel. He could never hate the Southerners, because they saw one way and he another.
It was a passing emotion. It was too fine a morning for youth to grieve. At the distance the plumes of smoke made by the shells became decorative rather than deadly. From a crest he saw upon the plateau of Vicksburg and even discerned the dim outline of houses. Looking the other way, he saw the smoke of the iron-clads down the river, and he also caught glimpses of the Mississippi, gold in the morning sun over its vast breadth.
Then he entered the thickets, and, bearing in mind the kindly warning of the old colonel, proceeded slowly and with extreme caution. The Southerners knew every inch of the ground here and he knew none. He came to a ravine and to his dismay found that a considerable stream was flowing through it toward the bayou. It was yellow water, and he thought he might find a tree, fallen across the stream, which would serve him as a foot log, but a hunt of a few minutes disclosed none, and, hesitating no longer, he prepared to wade.
He put his belt with the pistols in it around his neck and stepped in boldly. His feet sank in the mud. The water rose to his knees and then to his waist. It was, in truth, deeper than he had expected--one could never tell about these yellow, opaque streams. He took another step and plunged into a hole up to his shoulders.
Angry that he should be wet through and through, and with such muddy water too, he crossed the stream.
He looked down with dismay at his uniform. The sun would soon dry it, but until he got a chance to clean it, it would remain discolored and yellow, like the jeans clothes which the poorer farmers of the South often wore. And yet the accident that he bemoaned, the bath in water thick with mud, was to prove his salvation.
Dick shook himself like a big dog, throwing off as much of the water as he could. He had kept his pistols dry and he rebuckled his belt around his waist. Then he returned to his errand. Among the thickets he saw but little. Vicksburg, the Mississippi, and the Union camp disappeared. He beheld only a soft soil, many bushes and scrub forest. After going a little distance he was compelled to stop again and consider. It was curious how one could lose direction in so small a space.
He paused and listened, intending to regain his course through the sense of hearing. From the north and east came the thunder of the siege guns. It had grown heavier and was continuous now. Once more he was sorry for Vicksburg, because the Union gunners were unsurpassed and he was sure that bombs and shells were raining upon the devoted town.
Now he knew that he must go west by south, and he made his way over difficult country, crossing ravines, climbing hills, and picking his path now and then through soft ground, the most exhausting labor of all. The sun poured down upon him and his uniform dried fast. He had just crossed one of the ravines and was climbing into the thicket beyond when a voice asked:
"See any of the Yanks in front?"
Dick's heart stood still, and then all his presence of mind came back. Not in vain had the kindly colonel warned him of the Southern sharpshooters in the bush.
"No," he replied. "They seem to be farther up. One of our fellows told me he saw a whole regiment of them off there to the right."
He plunged deeper into the bush and walked on as if he were among his own comrades. He realized that his faded uniform with its dye of yellow mud had caused him to be mistaken for one of Pemberton's men. His accent, which was Kentuckian and therefore Southern, had helped him also. He passed three or four other men, bent over, rifle in hand and watching, and he nodded to them familiarly. In such a crisis he knew that boldness and ease were his best cards, and he said to one of the men, with a laugh:
"You'll have to tell us Tennesseeans about all your bayous and creeks. I've just fallen into one that had no right to be there."
"You Tennesseeans need a bath anyhow," replied the man, chuckling.
"We'd never choose a Mississippi stream for it," said Dick in the same vein, and passed on leaving the rifleman in high good humor. How wonderfully these Southerners were like the Northerners! He noticed presently a half-dozen other sharpshooters in the Confederate butternut, prowling among the bushes, and through an opening he saw his own people to the west, but too far away to be reached by anything but artillery. The slow, deep music of the Northern guns came steadily to his ear, but their fire was always turned toward Vicksburg.
Dick knew that his position was extremely critical. Perhaps it was growing more so all the while, but he was never cooler. A quiet lad, he always rose wonderfully to an emergency. He was quite sure that he was among Mississippi troops, and they could not possibly know all the soldiers from the other states gathered for the defense of Vicksburg. He did not differ from those around him in any respect, except that he did not carry a rifle.
He paused and looked back thoughtfully at the distant Union troops.
"Can you tell me how they're posted?" he said to a tall, thin middle-aged man who had a chew of tobacco in his cheek. "I carry dispatches to General Pemberton, and the more information I can give him the better."
"Yes, I kin tell you," replied the man, somewhat flattered. "They're posted everywhere. What, with their army and them boats of theirs in the river, they've got a high fence around us, all staked and ridered."
"It doesn't take any more work to tear a fence down than it does to build it up."
"I reckon you're right thar, stranger. But was you at Champion Hill?"
"No, I missed that."
"Then it was a good thing for you that you did. I didn't set much store by the Yanks when this war began. One good Southerner could whip five of 'em any time, our rip-roarin', fire-eatin' speech-makers said. I knowed then, too, that they was right, but I was up thar in Kentucky a while, an' after Donelson I reckoned that four was about as many as I wanted to tackle all to oncet. Then thar was Shiloh, an' I kinder had a thought that if three of 'em jumped on me at one time I'd hev my hands purty full to lick 'em. Then come Corinth, an,' reasonin' with myself, I said I wouldn't take on more'n two Yanks at the same time. An' now, since I've been at Champion Hill, I know that the Yank is a pow'ful good fighter, an' I reckon one to one jest about suits me, an' even then I'd like to have a leetle advantage in the draw."
"I feel that way about it, too. The Yankees are going to make a heap of trouble for us here. But I must be going. What's the best path into Vicksburg?"
"See that little openin' in the bushes. Follow it. Jest over the hill you'll run into a passel of our fellers, but pay no 'tention to 'em. If they ask you who you are an' whar you're boun' tell 'em to go straight to blazes, while you go to Vicksburg."
"Thank you," said Dick, "I like to meet an obliging and polite man like you. It helps even in war."
"Don't mention it. When I wuz a little shaver my ma told me always to mind my manners, an' when I didn't she whaled the life out of me. An', do you know, stranger, she's just a leetle, withered old woman, but if she could 'pear here right now I'd be willin' to set down right in these bushes an' say, 'Ma, take up that stick over thar an' beat me across the shoulders an' back with it as hard as you kin.' I'd feel good all over."
"I believe you," said Dick, who thought of his own mother.
He followed the indicated path until he was out of sight of everybody, and then he plunged into the bushes and marsh toward the river. When he was well hidden he stopped and considered.
It was quite evident that he had wandered from the right road, but it was no easy task to get back into it. There was an unconscious Confederate cordon about him and he must pass through it somewhere. He moved farther toward the river, but only went deeper into the swamp.
He turned to the south and soon reached firm ground, but he heard Confederate pickets talking in front of him. Then he caught glimpses of two or three men watching among the trees, and he lay down in a clump of bushes. He might pass them as he had passed the others, but he thought it wiser not to take the risk.
He was willing also to rest a little, as he had done a lot of hard walking. His clothing was now dry, and the mud had dried upon it.
He turned aside into one of the deep ravines and then into a smaller one leading from it. The bushes were dense there and he lay down among them, so completely hidden that he was invisible ten feet away. Here he still heard the mutter of the guns, which came in a long, droning sound, and occasionally a rifle cracked at some point closer by. The Union army was still busy and he felt a few moments of despondency. His dispatch undoubtedly was of great importance, and yet he was not able to deliver it. It was highly probable that for precaution's sake other messengers bore the same dispatch, but he was anxious to arrive with his nevertheless, and he wanted, too, to arrive first. The last now seemed impossible and the first improbable.
The crackling fire came nearer. Owing to the lack of percussion caps, Pemberton had ordered his men to use their rifles sparingly, but evidently a considerable body of sharpshooters near Dick were attempting a flanking movement of some kind, and meant to carry it out with bullets. He was impatient to see, but prudence kept him in his covert, a prudence that was soon justified, as presently he heard voices very near him and then the sound of footsteps.
He rose up a little and saw several hundred Confederate soldiers passing on the slopes not more than a hundred yards away. They went south of him, and he recognized with growing alarm that the wall across his way was growing higher. When they were gone and he could no longer hear their tread among the bushes he slipped from his hiding place and went directly toward Vicksburg. Being within an iron ring he thought that perhaps he would be safer somewhere near the center. He might make his way without much trouble through the vast confused crowd in Vicksburg, and then in the night go down the river's edge and to the fleet.
It was a daring idea, so very daring that it appealed to the strain of high adventure in the lad. He was encouraged, too, by his earlier and easy success in passing among the Confederate soldiers. But in order not to appear reckless and to satisfy his own conscience he tried once more for the way to the south. But the soldiers entirely barred the path there, and, being on some duty that required extreme vigilance, they were likely to prove exacting.
He advanced with a clear mind toward Vicksburg, picking his way among the forests and ravines, but, after long walking over most difficult ground, he saw before him extensive earthworks thronged with Southern troops. When he turned westward the result was the same, and then it became evident that there was no flaw in the iron ring. He could not go through to Porter, he could not go back to his own army, but Vicksburg invited him as a guest.
He would make the trial at night. It was a long wait, but he dared not risk it by day, and, going back into one of the ravines, he sought a secluded and sheltered place. Threshing the bushes to drive away possible snakes, he crawled into a clump and lay there. Resolved to be patient in spite of everything, he did not stir, but listened to the far throbbing of the cannon which poured an incessant storm of missiles upon unhappy Vicksburg.
The warmth and the heavy air in the ravine were relaxing. His brain grew so dull and heavy that he fell asleep, and when he awoke the twilight was coming. And yet he had lost nothing. He had gained rather. The time had passed. His body had been strengthened and his nerves steadied while he slept.
The distant booming of the guns still came. He had expected it. That was Grant. He had wrapped the coil of steel around Vicksburg and he would never relax. Dick felt that there was no hope for the town, unless Johnston outside could gather a powerful army and fight Grant on even terms. But he considered it impossible, and there, too, was the great artery of the river along which flowed men and supplies of every kind for the Union.
The Southern twilight turned swiftly into night and, coming from his lair, Dick walked boldly toward the town. He had eaten nothing since morning, but he had not noticed it, until this moment, when he began to feel a little faintness. He resolved that Vicksburg should supply him. It was curious how much help he expected of Vicksburg, a hostile town.
He saw lights soon both to right and to left and he strengthened his soul. He knew that he must be calm, but alert and quick with the right answer. With his singular capacity for meeting a crisis he advanced into the thick of danger with a smiling face, even as his great ancestor, Paul Cotter, had often done.
His calm was of short duration. There was a rushing sound, something struck violently, and a tremendous explosion followed. Fire flashed before Dick's eyes, pieces of red hot metal whistled past his head, earth spattered him and he was thrown to the ground.
He sprang up again, understanding all instantly. A shell from his own army had burst near him, and he had been thrown down by the concussion. But he had not been hurt, and in a few seconds his pulse beat steadily.
He heard a shout of laughter as he stood, brushing the fresh dirt from his clothing. He glanced up in some anger, but he saw at once that the arrival of the shell had been most fortunate for his plan. To come near annihilation by a Federal gun certainly invested him with a Confederate character.
It was a group of young soldiers who were laughing and their amusement was entirely good-natured. They would have laughed the same way had the harmless adventure befallen one of their own number. Dick judged that they were from the Southwest.
"Close call," he said, smiling that attractive smile, which was visible even in the twilight.
"It was a friendly shell," said one of the youths, "and it concluded not to come too close to you. These Yankee shells are so loving that sometimes they spray themselves in little pieces all over a fellow, like a shower of rice over a bride at a wedding."
"How long do you think the Yankees will keep it up?" asked Dick, putting indignation in his tone. "Haven't they any respect for the night?"
"Not a bit. That fellow Grant is a pounder. They say he'll blow away the whole plateau of Vicksburg if we don't drive him off."
"Well, we'll do it. You wait till old Joe Johnston comes up. Then we'll shut him between the jaws of a vise and squeeze the life out of him."
"Hope so. Where've you been?"
"Down below the town. I'm coming back with messages."
"So long. Good luck. Keep straight ahead, and you'll find all the generals you want."
The lights increased and he went into a small tavern, where he bought food and a cup of coffee, paying in gold. The tavern keeper asked no questions, but his eyes gleamed at sight of the yellow coin.
"Mighty little of this comes my way now," he said frankly, "and our own money is worth less and less every day. If things keep on the way they're headed it'll take a bale of it as big as a bale of cotton to pay for one good, square meal."
"Not so bad as that," he said. "You wait until we've given Grant a big thrashing and have cleared their boats out of the river. Then you'll see our money becoming real."
The man shook his head.
"Seein' will be believin'," he said, "an' as I ain't seein' I ain't believin'."
Dick with a friendly good night went out. Grant, the persistent, was still at work. His cannon flared on the dark horizon and the shells crashed in Vicksburg. Scarcely any portion of the town was safe. Now and then a house was smashed in and often the shells found victims.
The town was full of terror and confusion. Many of the rich planters had come there with their families for refuge. Women and children hid from the terrible fire, and the civilians already had begun to burrow. Caves had been dug deep into the sides of the ravines and hundreds found in them a rude but safe shelter.
Dick now found that his plans were going wrong. He could wander about almost at will and to any one to whom he spoke he still claimed to be a Tennesseean, but he knew that it could not last forever. Sooner or later, some officer would question him closely, and then his tale would be too thin for truth.
Unable to make a way toward the river, he returned to the slopes and ravines, where they were digging the caves, and then fortune which had been smiling upon him turned its face the other way. A small man in butternut and an enormous felt hat passed near. He did not see Dick, but his very presence gave the lad a shiver. He believed afterward that before he saw him he had felt the proximity of Slade.
The man, carrying a rifle, was hurrying toward the center of the town, and Dick, after one long look, hurried at equal speed the other way. He knew that Slade, if he saw him, would recognize him at once. Dusk and a muddy uniform would not protect him.
It was his idea now to go down through the ravines and make another trial toward the South. He saw ahead of him a line of intrenchments, which he was resolved to pass in some fashion, but the face of fortune was still away from him. The unknown officers who at any time might ask too many questions appeared.
A captain, a sunbrowned, alert man, stopped him at the edge of the bushes which clothed the slopes of the ravine.
"Your regiment?" he asked sharply.
"Tennessee regiment, sir," replied Dick, afraid to mention any number, since this officer might be a Tennesseean himself, and would want further identification. But the man was not to be put off--Dick judged from his uniform that he was a colonel--and demanded sharply his regiment's number and his business.
The lad mumbled something under his breath, hopeful that he would pass on, but the officer stepped forward, looked at him closely and then suddenly turned back the collar of his army jacket, disclosing a bit of the under side yet blue.
"Thunderation, a Yankee spy!" he exclaimed.
Dick always believed that his life was due to a sudden and violent impulse, or rather a convulsive jerk, because he had no time to think. He threw off the officer's hand, dashed his fist into his face, and, without waiting to see the effect, ran headlong among the bushes down the side of the ravine. He heard a shouting behind him, the reports of several shots, the rapid tread of feet, and he knew that the man-hunt was on.
He had all the instincts of the hunted to seek cover, and the night was his friend. But few lights glimmered in that portion of Vicksburg, and in many parts of the ravine the bushes were thick. He darted down the slope at great speed, then turned and ran along its side, still keeping well under cover. Where the shadows were darkest and the bushes thickest he paused panting.
He heard his pursuers calling to one another, and he also heard the excited voices of people in the ravine. The civilians had been aroused by the shots so close by and he thought the confusion would help him. He stood in the deep shadow, his breath gradually growing easier, and then he started down the ravine, coming to a little path that led along the side of the slope. He noticed a dark opening, and as the voices of pursuers were now coming nearer, he popped into it, trusting to blind luck.
Dick had thought it was a mere wash-out or deep recess, but at the third step his foot struck upon a carpet and he saw ahead a dim light. He paused, amazed, and then he remembered that he had heard about the civilians digging caves for shelter from the shells and bombs. Evidently some forethoughtful man had prepared his cave early.
Uncertain what to do he did nothing, pressing his back against the earth and listening. No sound came, and the dim light still flickering ahead reassured him.
The opening through which he had come was large, and admitted plenty of fresh air. As he stood four or five feet from the entrance he saw several soldiers hurrying along the path, and he knew they were hunting for him. He realized then his fortune in finding this improvised cave-house. After the soldiers passed he walked gently toward the light. Apparently the regular occupants were gone away for the time, and he might find a hiding place there until it was safe to go out.
The passage was narrow, but the carpet was still under his feet, and further in, the sides and roof of the earthen walls had been covered with planks. The light grew brighter and he was quite sure that a room of some size was just ahead. His curiosity became so great that it smothered all apprehension, and he stepped boldly into the room, where the lamp burned on a table.
He would have stepped back as quickly, but a pair of great burning eyes caught his and held them. A bed was standing against the board wall of the cave, and in this bed lay an old man with a huge bald head, immense white eyebrows and eyes of extraordinary intensity.
Once more did Colonel Charles Woodville and Richard Mason stare into the eyes of each other, and for a long time neither spoke.
"I managed to escape from Jackson with my little family," said the colonel at length, "and I thought that in this, so to say, sylvan retreat I might drop all undesirable acquaintances that I made there."
The whole scene was grotesque and wild to Dick. It was like a passage out of the Arabian Nights, and an extraordinary spirit of recklessness seized him.
"I appreciate your words, sir," he said, "and I can understand your feelings. I have felt myself that it was never wise to go where one might not be welcome, and yet chance plays us such tricks that neither your wish nor mine is granted."
The old man then raised his head a little higher on the pillow. A spark leaped from the burning eyes.
"A lad of spirit," he said. "I would not withhold praise where praise is due. I recall meeting some one who resembled you very much. Perhaps a brother of yours, eh?"
"No, he was not my brother."
"Well, it does not matter and we will not pursue the subject. How does it happen that you have come into this hillside castle of mine?"
Young Mason saw a flicker of amusement in the eyes of the old man. He was aware that in his muddy uniform he made no imposing figure, but his spirit was as high as ever, and the touch of recklessness was still there.
"I saw some men coming down the path," he replied; "men with whom I do not care to associate, and I turned aside to avoid them. I beheld the open door and stepped within, but I did not know the chamber was occupied, and it was far from my purpose to intrude upon you or any one. I trust, sir, that you will believe me."
The lad took off his cap and bowed. His face was now revealed more clearly, and it was a fine one, splendidly molded, intellectual, and with noble blue eyes. After all, despite the mud and stains, he made a graceful figure as he stood there, so obviously confident of himself, but respectful.
The spark leaped again from the eyes of Colonel Woodville, and, remembering something, there was a slight warmth about the heart which lately had been so cold and bitter.
"I do not blame you," he said. "A lad, one in his formative years, cannot be too careful about his associates. Doubtless you were justified in taking advantage of the open door. But now that you are here may I ask you what you purpose next to do?"
"I admit, sir, that the question is natural," replied Dick, suiting his tone and manner to those of the old man. "I have scarcely had time yet to form a purpose, but, since the danger of contamination of which we spoke still exists, it occurs to me that perhaps I might stay here a while. Is there some nook or a cover in which I might rest? I hope I do not trespass too much upon your hospitality."
Colonel Woodville pondered. His great white eyebrows were drawn together and, for a moment or two, he gazed down the beak of his nose.
"I confess," he said, "that the appeal to hospitality moves me. I am stirred somewhat, too, by pleasant recollections of the lad who looked like you. But wait, my daughter is coming. We will confer with her. Margaret is a most capable woman."
Dick heard a light step in the passage and he wheeled quickly. Miss Woodville was before him, a plain, elderly figure in a plain black dress, with a basket on her arm. The basket contained a fowl and some eggs which she had just bought at a great price. When she saw Dick her hand flew to her throat, but when the pulse ceased to beat so hard it came away and she looked at him fixedly. Then a slow smile like the dawn spread over the severe, worn face.
"Come in, Margaret, and put down your basket," said the colonel in a genial tone. "Meanwhile bid welcome to our unexpected guest, a young man of spirit and quality with whom I was holding converse before you came. He does not wish to go out to-night, because there are many violent men abroad, and he would avoid them."
Then he turned to Dick, and asked in a tone, sharp and commanding:
"I have your word, young sir, that your unexpected visit to our city was not of a secret nature; that is, it was not of a lawless character?"
"An accident, sir, an accident pure and simple. I answer you on my honor. I have seen nothing and I shall not seek to see anything which I should not see."
"Margaret," continued the colonel, and now his tone became deferential as behooved a gentleman speaking to a lady, "shall we ask him to share our simple quarters to-night?"
The lad slowly turned his gaze to the face of the woman. He felt with all the power of intuition that his fate rested on her decision. But she was a woman. And she was, too, a true daughter of her father. A kindred spark leaped up in her own soul, and she met Dick's gaze. She noted his fearless poise, and she saw the gallant spirit in his eye. Then she turned to her father.
"I think you wish him to stay, sir," she said, "and the wish seems right to me. Our narrow quarters limit our hospitality in quality, but not in intent. We can offer him nothing but the little alcove behind the blanket."
She inclined her head toward the blanket, which Dick had not noticed before. It hung near the bed and, wishing to cause this household little trouble, he said:
"Then I assume that you will shelter me for the night, and, if I may, I will go at once to my room."
Colonel Woodville lowered his head upon the pillow and laughed softly.
"A lad of spirit. A lad of spirit, I repeat," he said. "No, Margaret, you and I could not have turned him from our earthen roof."
Dick bowed to Miss Woodville, and that little ghost of a tender smile flitted about her thin lips. Then he lifted the blanket, stepped into the dark, and let the curtain fall behind him.
He stood for a space until his eyes, used to the dusk, could see dimly. It was a tiny room evidently used as a place of storage for clothing and bedding, but there was space enough for him to lie down, if he bent his knees a little.
The strain upon both muscle and nerve had been very great, and now came collapse. Removing his shoes and outer clothing he dropped upon a roll of bedding and closed his eyes. But he was grateful, deeply and lastingly grateful. The bread that he had cast upon the waters was returning to him fourfold.
He heard low voices beyond the blanket, and he did not doubt that they were those of Colonel Woodville and his daughter. The woman in plain black, with the basket on her arm, had seemed a pathetic figure to him. He could not blame them for feeling such intense bitterness. What were the causes of the war to people who had been driven from a luxurious home to a hole in the side of a ravine?
He slept, and when he woke it seemed to be only a moment later, but he knew from the slender edge of light appearing where the blanket just failed to touch the floor that morning had come. He moved gently lest he disturb his host in the larger room without, and then he heard the distant thunder, which he knew was the booming of Grant's great guns. And so the night had not stopped them! All through the hours that he slept the cannon had rained steel and death on Vicksburg. Then came a great explosion telling him that a shell had burst somewhere near. It was followed by the voice of Colonel Woodville raised in high, indignant tones:
"Can't they let a gentleman sleep? Must they wake him with one of their infernal shells?"
He heard a slight rustling sound and he knew that it was the great bald head moving impatiently on the pillows. Inferring that it was early, he would have gone back to sleep himself, but slumber would not come. He remained a while, thoughtful, for his future lay very heavy upon him, and then he heard the sound of several voices beyond the blanket.
He listened closely, trying to number and distinguish them. There were three and two belonged to Colonel Woodville and his daughter. The third repelled and puzzled him. It seemed to have in it a faint quality of the fox. It was not loud, and yet that light, snarling, sinister note was evident.
The sensitive, attuned mind can be easily affected by a voice, and the menace of the unknown beyond the blanket deepened. Dick felt a curious prickling at the roots of his hair. He listened intently, but he could not understand anything that was spoken, and then he drew himself forward with great caution.
They must be talking about something of importance, because the voices were earnest, and sometimes all three spoke at once. He reached a slow hand toward the blanket. The danger would be great, but he must see.
He drew back the blanket slightly, a quarter of an inch, maybe, and looked within the room. Then he saw the owner of the sinister voice, and he felt that he might have known from the first.
Slade, standing before Colonel Woodville's bed, his hat in his hand, was talking eagerly.