The Scouts of Stonewall by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter II. The Foot Cavalry
Captain Sherburne told Captain McGee that the invaders were coming, and there was a stir in the ranks of the defenders. The cavalrymen, disciplined and eager, said nothing, but merely moved a little in order to see better along the road over which the enemy was advancing. The original defenders, who were infantry, talked in whispers, despite commands, and exchanged doubts and apprehensions.
Harry walked up and down in front of the warehouse with Captain Sherburne, and both watched the road.
"If we only had a little artillery, just a light gun or two," said Sherburne, "we'd give 'em such a surprise that they'd never get over it."
"But we haven't got it."
"No, we haven't, but maybe rifles and carbines will serve."
The hoofbeats were fast growing louder, and Harry knew that the head of the Northern column would appear in a minute or two. Every light in the warehouse or about it and all in the village had been extinguished, but the moonlight was clear and more stars had come into the full sky.
"We can see well enough for a fight," murmured Captain Sherburne.
Everybody could hear the hoofbeats now, and again there was a stir in the ranks of the defenders. The dark line appeared in the road three or four hundred yards away and then, as the horsemen emerged into the open, they deployed rapidly by companies. They, too, were trained men, and keen eyes among their officers caught sight of the armed dark line before the warehouse. The voice of the trumpet suddenly pealed forth again, and now it was loud and menacing.
"It's the charge!" cried Sherburne, "and I can see that they're all you said, Kenton! A magnificent body, truly! Ready, men! Ready! For God's sake don't fire too soon! Wait for the word! Wait for the word!"
He was all the leader now, and in the excitement of the moment McGee did not notice it. The superior mind, the one keen to see and to act, was in control.
"Here, Kenton!" cried Sherburne, "hold back these recruits! My own men will do exactly as I say!"
Harry ran along the infantry line, and here and there he knocked down rifles which were raised already, although the enemy was yet three hundred yards away. But he saw a figure in front of the charging horsemen wave a sword. Then the trumpet blew another call, short but fierce and menacing, and the ground thundered as nearly a thousand horsemen swept forward, uttering a tremendous shout, their sabers flashing in the moonlight.
Harry felt a moment of admiration and then another moment of pity. These men, charging so grandly, did not know that the defenders had been reinforced. Nor did they know that they rode straight to what was swift and sudden death for many of them.
It was hard to stand steady and not pull the trigger, while that line of flashing steel galloped upon them, but the dismounted cavalrymen looked to their leader for commands, and the officer held the infantry. Harry's moment of admiration and pity passed. These were soldiers coming to defeat and destroy, and it was his business to help prevent it. His own pulse of battle began to beat hard.
That front of steel, spread wide across the open, was within two hundred yards now! Then a hundred and fifty! Then a hundred! Then less, and fierce and sharp like the crack of a rifle came Captain Sherburne's command: "Fire!"
Four hundred rifles leaped to the shoulder and four hundred fingers pressed trigger so close together that four hundred rifles sang together as one. The charge halted in its tracks. The entire front rank was shot away. Horses and men went down together, and the horses uttered neighs of pain, far more terrific than the groans of the wounded men. Many of them, riderless, galloped up and down between the lines.
But the splendid horsemen behind came on again, after the momentary stop. Half of them armed with short carbines sent a volley at the defenders, who were shoving in cartridges in frantic haste, and the swordsmen galloped straight upon the Virginians.
Harry saw a great saber flashing directly in his face. It was wielded by a man on a powerful horse that seemed wild with the battle fever. The horse, at the moment, was more terrible than his rider. His mouth was dripping with foam, and his lips were curled back from his cruel, white teeth. His eyes, large and shot with blood, were like those of some huge, carnivorous animal.
The boy recoiled, more in fear of the horse than of the saber, and snatching a heavy pistol from his belt, fired directly at the great foam-flecked head. The horse crashed down, but his rider sprang clear and retreated into the smoke. Almost at the same instant the defenders had fired the second volley, and the charge was beaten back from their very faces.
The Southerners at the war's opening had the advantage of an almost universal familiarity with the rifle, and now they used it well. Sherburne's two hundred men, always cool and steady, fired like trained marksmen, and the others did almost as well. Most of them had new rifles, using cartridges, and no cavalry on earth could stand before such a fire.
Harry again saw the flashing sabers more than once, and there was a vast turmoil of fire and smoke in front of him, but in a few minutes the trumpet sounded again, loud and clear over the crash of battle, and now it was calling to the men to come back.
The two forces broke apart. The horsemen, save for the wounded and dead, retreated to the forest, and the defenders, victorious for the present, fired no more, while the wounded, who could, crawled away to shelter. They reloaded their rifles and at first there was no exultation. They barely had time to think of anything. The impact had been so terrible and there had been such a blaze of firing that they were yet in a daze, and scarcely realized what had happened.
"Down, men! Down!" cried Captain Sherburne, as he ran along the line. "They'll open fire from the wood!"
All the defenders threw themselves upon the ground and lay there, much less exposed and also concealed partly. One edge of the wood ran within two hundred yards of the warehouse, and presently the Northern soldiers, hidden behind the trees at that point, opened a heavy rifle fire. Bullets whistled over the heads of the defenders, and kept up a constant patter upon the walls of the warehouse, but did little damage.
A few of the men in gray had been killed, and all the wounded were taken inside the warehouse, into which the great tobacco barn had been turned. Two competent surgeons attended to them by the light of candles, while the garrison outside lay still and waiting under the heavy fire.
"A waste of lead," said Sherburne to Harry. "They reckon, perhaps, that we're all recruits, and will be frightened into retreat or surrender."
"If we had those guns now we could clear out the woods in short order," said Harry.
"And if they had 'em they could soon blow up this barn, everything in it and a lot of us at the same time. So we are more than even on the matter of the lack of guns."
The fire from the wood died in about fifteen minutes and was succeeded by a long and trying silence. The light of the moon deepened, and silvered the faces of the dead lying in the open. All the survivors of the attack were hidden, but the defenders knew that they were yet in the forest.
"Kenton," said Captain Sherburne, "you know the way to General Jackson's camp at Winchester."
"I've been over it a dozen times."
"Then you must mount and ride. This force is sitting down before us for a siege, and it probably has pickets about the village, but you must get through somehow. Bring help! The Yankees are likely to send back for help, too, but we've got to win here."
"I'm off in five minutes," said Harry, "and I'll come with a brigade by dawn."
"I believe you will," said Sherburne. "But get to Old Jack! Get there! If you can only reach him, we're saved! He may not have any horsemen at hand, but his foot cavalry can march nearly as fast! Lord, how Stonewall Jackson can cover ground!"
Their hands met in the hearty grasp of a friendship which was already old and firm, and Harry, without looking back, slipped into the wood, where the men from the village were watching over the horses. Sherburne had told him to take any horse he needed, but he chose his own, convinced that he had no equal, slipped into the saddle, and rode to the edge of the wood.
"There's a creek just back of us; you can see the water shining through the break in the trees," said a man who kept the village store. "The timber's pretty thick along it, and you'd best keep in its shelter. Here, you Tom, show him the way."
A boy of fourteen stepped up to the horse's head.
"My son," said the storekeeper. "He knows every inch of the ground."
But Harry waved him back.
"No," he said. "I'll be shot at, and the boy on foot can't escape. I'll find my way through. No, I tell you he must not go!"
He almost pushed back the boy who was eager for the task, rode out of the wood which was on the slope of the hill away from the point of attack, and gained the fringe of timber along the creek. It was about fifty yards from cover to cover, but he believed he had not been seen, as neither shout nor shot followed him.
Yet the Union pickets could not be far away. He had seen enough to know that the besiegers were disciplined men led by able officers and they would certainly make a cordon about the whole Southern position.
He rode his horse into a dense clump of trees and paused to listen. He heard nothing but the faint murmur of the creek, and the occasional rustle of dry branches as puffs of wind passed. He dismounted for the sake of caution and silence as far as possible, and led his horse down the fringe of trees, always keeping well under cover.
Another hundred yards and he stopped again to listen. All those old inherited instincts and senses leaped into life. He was, for the moment, the pioneer lad, seeking to detect the ambush of his foe. Now, his acute ears caught the hostile sound. It was low, merely the footsteps of a man, steadily walking back and forth.
Harry peeped from his covert and saw a Union sentinel not far away, pacing his beat, rifle on shoulder, the point of the bayonet tipped with silver flame from the moon. And he saw further on another sentinel, and then another, all silent and watchful. He knew that the circle about the defense was complete.
He could have escaped easily through the line, had he been willing to leave his horse, and for a few moments he was sorely tempted to do so, but he recalled that time was more precious than jewels. If he ever got beyond the line of pickets he must go and go fast.
He was three or four hundred yards from the village and no one had yet observed him, but he did not believe that he could go much farther undetected. Some one was bound to hear the heavy footsteps of the horse.
The creek shallowed presently and the banks became very low. Then Harry decided suddenly upon his course. He would put everything to the touch and win or lose in one wild dash. Springing upon the back of his horse, he raked him with the spur and put him straight at the creek. The startled animal was across in two jumps, and then Harry sent him racing across the fields. He heard two or three shouts and several shots, but fortunately none touched him or his mount, and, not looking back, he continually urged the horse to greater speed.
Bending low he heard the distant sound of hoofbeats behind him, but they soon died away. Then he entered a belt of forest, and when he passed out on the other side no pursuit could be seen. But he did not slacken speed. He knew that all Sherburne had said about Stonewall Jackson was true. He would forgive no dallying by the way. He demanded of every man his uttermost.
He turned from the unfenced field into the road, and rode at a full gallop toward Winchester. The cold wind swept past and his spirits rose high. Every pulse was beating with exultation. It was he who had brought the warning to the defenders of the stores. It was he who had brought Sherburne's troop to help beat off the attack, and now it was he who, bursting through the ring of steel, was riding to Jackson and sure relief.
His horse seemed to share his triumph. He ran on and on without a swerve or jar. Once he stretched out his long head, and uttered a shrill neigh. The sound died in far echoes, and then followed only the rapid beat of his hoofs on the hard road.
Harry knew that there was no longer any danger to him from the enemy, and he resolved now not to go to his own colonel, but to ride straight to the tent of Jackson himself.
The night had never grown dark. Moon and stars still shed an abundant light for the flying horseman, and presently he caught fleeting glimpses through the trees of roofs that belonged to Winchester. Then two men in gray spring into the road, and, leveling their rifles, gave him the command to stop.
"I'm Lieutenant Kenton of the Invincibles," he cried, "and I come for help. A strong force of the Yankees is besieging Hertford, and four hundred of our men are defending it. There is no time to waste! They must have help there before dawn, or everything is lost! Which way is General Jackson's tent?"
"In that field on the hillock!" replied one of the men, pointing two or three hundred yards away.
Harry raced toward the tent, which rose in modest size out of the darkness, and sprang to the ground, when his horse reached it. A single sentinel, rifle across his arms, was standing before it, but the flap was thrown back and a light was burning inside.
"I'm a messenger for General Jackson!" cried Harry. "I've news that can't wait!"
The sentinel hesitated a moment, but a figure within stepped to the door of the tent and Harry for the first time was face to face with Stonewall Jackson. He had seen him often near or far, but now he stood before him, and was to speak with him.
Jackson was dressed fully and the fine wrinkles of thought showed on his brow, as if he had intended to study and plan the night through. He was a tallish man, with good features cut clearly, high brow, short brown beard and ruddy complexion. His uniform was quite plain and his appearance was not imposing, but his eyes of deep blue regarded the boy keenly.
"I'm Lieutenant Kenton, sir, of Colonel Talbot's Invincibles," replied Harry to the question which was not spoken, but which nevertheless was asked. "Our arsenal at Hertford is besieged by a strong force of the enemy, a force that is likely to be increased heavily by dawn. Luckily Captain Sherburne and his troop of valley Virginians came up in time to help, and I have slipped through the besieging lines to bring more aid."
Harry had touched his cap as he spoke and now he stood in silence while the blue eyes looked him through.
"I know you. I've observed you," said Jackson in calm, even tones, showing not a trace of excitement. "I did not think that the Federal troops would make a movement so soon, but we will meet it. A brigade will march in half an hour."
"Don't I go with it?" exclaimed Harry pleadingly. "You know, I brought the news, sir!"
"You do. Your regiment will form part of the brigade. Rejoin Colonel Talbot at once. The Invincibles, with you as guide, shall lead the way. You have done well, Lieutenant Kenton."
Harry flushed with pride at the brief words of praise, which meant so much coming from Stonewall Jackson, and saluting again hurried to his immediate command. Already the messengers were flying to the different regiments, bidding them to be up and march at once.
The Invincibles were upon their feet in fifteen minutes, fully clothed and armed, and ready for the road. The cavalry were not available that night, and the brigade would march on foot save for the officers. Harry was back on his horse, and St. Clair and Langdon were beside him. The colonels, Talbot and St. Hilaire, sat on their horses at the head of the Invincibles, the first regiment.
"What is it?" said Langdon to Harry. "Have you brought this night march upon us?"
"I have, and we're going to strike the Yankees before dawn at Hertford," replied Harry to both questions.
"I like the nights for rest," said Langdon, "but it could be worse; I've had four hours' sleep anyway."
"You'll have no more this night, that's certain," said St. Clair. "Look, General Jackson, himself, is going with us. See him climbing upon Little Sorrel! Lord pity the foot cavalry!"
General Jackson, mounted upon the sorrel horse destined to become so famous, rode to the head of the brigade, which was now in ranks, and beckoned to Harry.
"I've decided to attend to this affair myself, Lieutenant Kenton," he said. "Keep by my side. You know the way. Be sure that you lead us right."
His voice was not raised, but his words had an edge of steel. The cold blue eyes swept him with a single chilly glance and Harry felt the fear of God in his soul. Lead them right? His faculties could not fail with Stonewall Jackson by his side.
The general himself gave the word, the brigade swung into the broad road and it marched. It did not dawdle along. It marched, and it marched fast. It actually seemed to Harry after the first mile that it was running, running toward the enemy.
Not in vain had the infantry of Stonewall Jackson been called foot cavalry. Harry now for the first time saw men really march. The road spun behind them and the forest swept by. They were nearly all open-air Virginians, long of limb, deep of chest and great of muscle. There was no time for whispering among them, and the exchange of guesses about their destination. They needed every particle of air in their lungs for the terrible man who made them march as men had seldom marched before.
Jackson cast a grim eye on the long files that sank away in the darkness behind him.
"They march very well," he said, "but they will do better with more practice. Ride to the rear, Lieutenant Kenton, and see if there are any stragglers. If you find any order them back into line and if they refuse to obey, shoot."
Again his voice was not raised, but an electric current of fiery energy seemed to leap from this grave, somber man and to infuse itself through the veins of the lad to whom he gave the orders.
Harry saluted and, wheeling his horse, rode swiftly along the edge of the forest toward the rear. Now, the spirit of indomitable youth broke forth. Many in the columns were as young as he and some younger. In the earlier years of the war, and indeed, to the very close, there was little outward respect for rank among the citizen soldiers of either army. Harry was saluted with a running fire of chaff.
"Turn your horse's head, young feller, the enemy ain't that way. He's in front."
"He's forgot his toothbrush, Bill, and he's going back in a hurry to get it."
"If I had a horse like that I'd ride him in the right direction."
"Tell 'em in Winchester that the foot cavalry are marchin' a hundred miles an hour."
Harry did not resent these comments. He merely flung back an occasional comment of his own and hurried on until he reached the rear. Then in the dusk of the road he found four or five men limping along, and ready when convenient to drop away in the darkness. Harry wasted no time. The fire in his blood that had come from Jackson was still burning. He snatched a pistol from his belt and, riding directly at them, cried:
"Forward and into the ranks at once, or I shoot!"
"But we are lame, sir!" cried one of the men. "See my foot is bleeding!"
He held up one foot and red drops were falling from the ragged shoe.
"It makes no difference," cried Harry. "Barefooted men should be glad to march for Stonewall Jackson! One, two, three! Hurry, all of you, or I shoot!"
The men took one look at the flaming face, and broke into a run for the rear guard. Harry saw them in the ranks and then beat up the woods on either side of the road, but saw no more stragglers or deserters. Then he galloped through the edge of the forest and rejoined the general at the head of the command.
"Were they all marching?" asked Jackson.
"All but four, sir."
"And the four?"
"They're marching now, too."
"Good. How far are we from the arsenal?"
"About eight miles, sir."
"Isn't it nearer nine?"
"I should say nearer eight, sir."
"You should know, and at any rate we'll soon see."
Jackson did not speak to him again directly, evidently keeping him at his side now for sure guidance, but he continually sent other aides along the long lines to urge more speed. The men were panting, and, despite the cold of the winter night, beads of perspiration stood on every face. But Jackson was pitiless. He continually spurred them on, and now Harry knew with the certainty of fate that he would get there in time. He would reach Hertford before fresh Union troops could come. He was as infallible as fate.
There was no breath left for whispering in the ranks of Jackson's men. Nothing was heard but the steady beat of marching feet, and now and then, the low command of an officer. But such commands were few. There were no more stragglers, and the chief himself rode at their head. They knew how to follow.
The moon faded and many of the stars went back into infinite space. A dusky film was drawn across the sky, and at a distance the fields and forest blended into one great shadow. Harry looked back at the brigade which wound in a long dark coil among the trees. He could not see faces of the men now, only the sinuous black shape of illimitable length that their solid lines made.
This long black shape moved fast, and occasionally it gave forth a sinister glitter, as stray moonbeams fell upon blade or bayonet. It seemed to Harry that there was something deadly and inevitable about it, and he began to feel sorry for the Union troops who were besieging the village and who did not know that Stonewall Jackson was coming.
He cast a sidelong glance at the leader. He rode, leaning a little further forward in the saddle than usual, and the wintry blue eyes gazed steadily before him. Harry knew that they missed nothing.
"You are sure that we are on the right road, Mr. Kenton?" said Jackson.
"Quite sure of it, sir."
The general did not speak again for some time. Then, when he caught the faint glimmer of water through the dark, he said:
"This is the creek, is it not?"
"Yes, sir, and the Yankees can't be more than a mile away."
"And it's a full hour until dawn. The reinforcements for the enemy cannot have come up. Lieutenant Kenton, I wish you to stay with me. I will have a messenger tell Colonel Talbot that for the present you are detached for my service."
"Thank you, sir," said Harry.
"I wish to see how you crumple up the enemy."
The cold blue eyes gleamed for a moment. Harry more than guessed the depths of passion and resolve that lay behind the impenetrable mask of Jackson's face. He felt again the rays of the white, hot fire that burned in the great Virginian's soul.
A few hundred yards further and the brigade began to spread out in the dusk. Companies filed off to right and left, and in a few minutes came shots from the pickets, sounding wonderfully clear and sharp in the stillness of the night. Red dots from the rifle muzzles appeared here and there in the woods, and then Harry caught the glint of late starshine on the eaves of the warehouse.
Jackson drew his horse a little to one side of the road, and Harry, obedient to orders, followed him. A regiment massed directly behind them drew up close. Harry saw that it was his own Invincibles. There were Colonel Leonidas Talbot and Lieutenant-Colonel Hector St. Hilaire on horseback, looking very proud and eager. Further away were Langdon and St. Clair also mounted, but Harry could not see the expression on their faces.
"Tell Colonel Talbot to have the charge sounded and then to attack with all his might," said Jackson to his young aide.
Harry carried the order eagerly and rejoined the general at once. The drums of the Invincibles beat the charge, and on both sides of them the drums of other regiments played the same tune. Then the drum-beat was lost in that wild and thrilling shout, the rebel yell, more terrible than the war-whoop of the Indians, and the whole brigade rushed forward in a vast half-circle that enclosed the village between the two horns of the curve.
The scattered firing of the pickets was lost in the great shout of the South, and, by the time the Northern sentinels could give the alarm to their main body, the rush of Jackson's men was upon them, clearing out the woods and fields in a few instants and driving the Union horsemen in swift flight northward.
Harry kept close to his general. He saw a spark of fire shoot from the blue eye, and the nostrils expand. Then the mask became as impenetrable as ever. He let the reins fall on the neck of Little Sorrel, and watched his men as they swept into the open, passed the warehouse, and followed the enemy into the forest beyond.
But the bugles quickly sounded the recall. It was not Jackson's purpose to waste his men in frays which could produce little. The pursuing regiments returned reluctantly to the open where the inhabitants of the village were welcoming Jackson with great rejoicings. The encounter had been too swift and short to cause great loss, but all the stores were saved and Captain Sherburne and Captain McGee rode forward to salute their commander.
"You made a good defense," said Stonewall Jackson, crisply and briefly. "We begin the removal of the stores at once. Wagons will come up shortly for that purpose. Take your cavalry, Captain Sherburne, and scout the country. If they need sleep they can get it later when there is nothing else to do."
Captain Sherburne saluted and Harry saw his face flush with pride. The indomitable spirit of Jackson was communicated fast to all his men. The sentence to more work appealed to Sherburne with much greater force than the sentence of rest could have done. In a moment he and his men were off, searching the woods and fields in the direction of the Union camp.
"Ride back on the road, Lieutenant Kenton, and tell the wagons to hurry," said General Jackson to Harry. "Before I left Winchester I gave orders for them to follow, and we must not waste time here."
"Yes, sir," said Harry, as he turned and rode into the forest through which they had come. He, too, felt the same emotion that had made the face of Sherburne flush with pride. What were sleep and rest to a young soldier, following a man who carried victory in the hollow of his hand; not the victory of luck or chance, but the victory of forethought, of minute preparation, and of courage.
He galloped fast, and the hard road gave back the ring of steel shod hoofs. A silver streak showed in the eastern sky. The dawn was breaking. He increased his pace. The woods and fields fled by. Then he heard the cracking of whips, and the sound of voices urging on reluctant animals. Another minute and the long line of wagons was in sight straining along the road.
"Hurry up!" cried Harry to the leader who drove, bareheaded.
"Has Old Jack finished the job?" asked the man.
"How long did it take him?"
"About five minutes."
"I win," called the man to the second driver just behind him. "You 'lowed it would take him ten minutes, but I said not more'n seven at the very furthest."
The train broke into a trot, and Harry, turning his horse, rode by the side of the leader.
"How did you know that it would take General Jackson so little time to scatter the enemy?" the boy asked the man.
"'Cause I know Old Jack."
"But he has not yet done much in independent command."
"No, but I've seen him gettin' ready, an' I've watched him. He sees everything, an' he prays. I tell you he prays. I ain't a prayin' man myself. But when a man kneels down in the bushes an' talks humble an' respectful to his God, an' then rises up an' jumps at the enemy, it's time for that enemy to run. I'd rather be attacked by the worst bully and desperado that ever lived than by a prayin' man. You see, I want to live, an' what chance have I got ag'in a man that's not only not afraid to die, but that's willin' to die, an' rather glad to die, knowin' that he's goin' straight to Heaven an' eternal joy? I tell you, young man, that unbelievers ain't ever got any chance against believers; no, not in nothin'."
"I believe you're right."
"Right! Of course I'm right! Why did Old Jack order these waggins to come along an' get them stores? 'Cause he believed he was goin' to save 'em. An' mebbe he saved 'em, 'cause he believed he was goin' to do it. It works both ways. Git up!"
The shout of "Git up!" was to his horses, which added a little more to their pace, and now Harry saw troops coming back to meet them and form an escort.
In half an hour they were at the village. Already the ammunition and supplies had been brought forth and were stacked, ready to be loaded on the wagons. General Jackson was everywhere, riding back and forth on his sorrel horse, directing the removal just as he had directed the march and the brief combat. His words were brief but always dynamic. He seemed insensible to weariness.
It was now full morning, wintry and clear. The small population of the village and people from the surrounding country, intensely Southern and surcharged with enthusiasm, were bringing hot coffee and hot breakfast for the troops. Jackson permitted them to eat and drink in relays. As many as could get at the task helped to load the wagons. Little compulsion was needed. Officers themselves toiled at boxes and casks. The spirit of Jackson had flowed into them all.
"I've gone into training," said Langdon to Harry.
"Training? What kind of training, Tom?"
"I see that my days of play are over forever, and I'm practicing hard, so I can learn how to do without food, sleep or rest for months at a time."
"It's well you're training," interrupted St. Clair. "I foresee that you're going to need all the practice you can get. Everything's loaded in the wagons now, and I wager you my chances of promotion against one of our new Confederate dollar bills that we start inside of a minute."
The word "minute" was scarcely out of his mouth, when Jackson gave the sharp order to march. Sherburne's troop sprang to saddle and led the way, their bugler blowing a mellow salute to the morning and victory. Many whips cracked, and the wagons bearing the precious stores swung into line. Behind came the brigade, the foot cavalry. The breakfast and the loading of the wagons had not occupied more than half an hour. It was yet early morning when the whole force left the village and marched at a swift pace toward Winchester.
General Jackson beckoned to Harry.
"Ride with me," he said. "I've notified Colonel Talbot that you are detached from his staff and will serve on mine."
Although loath to leave his comrades Harry appreciated the favor and flushed with pleasure.
"Thank you, sir," he said briefly.
Jackson nodded. He seemed to like the lack of effusive words. Harry knew that his general had not tasted food. Neither had he. He had actually forgotten it in his keenness for his work, and now he was proud of the fact. He was proud, too, of the comradeship of abstention that it gave him with Stonewall Jackson. As he rode in silence by the side of the great commander he made for himself an ideal. He would strive in his own youthful way to show the zeal, the courage and the untiring devotion that marked the general.
The sun, wintry but golden, rose higher and made fields and forest luminous. But few among Jackson's men had time to notice the glory of the morning. It seemed to Harry that they were marching back almost as swiftly as they had come. Langdon was right and more. They were getting continuous practice not only in the art of living without food, sleep or rest, but also of going everywhere on a run instead of a walk. Those who survived it would be incomparable soldiers.
Winchester appeared and the people came forth rejoicing. Jackson gave orders for the disposition of the stores and then rode at once to a tent. He signalled to Harry also to dismount and enter. An orderly took the horses of both.
"Sit down at the table there," said Jackson. "I want to dictate to you some orders."
Harry sat down. He had forgotten to take off his cap and gloves, but he removed one gauntlet now, and picked up a pen which lay beside a little inkstand, a pad of coarse paper on the other side.
Jackson himself had not removed hat or gauntlets either, and the heavy cavalry cloak that he had worn on the ride remained flung over his shoulders. He dictated a brief order to his brigadiers, Loring, Edward Johnson, Garnett, the commander of the Stonewall Brigade, and Ashby, who led the cavalry, to prepare for a campaign and to see that everything was ready for a march in the morning.
Harry made copies of all the orders and sealed them.
"Deliver every one to the man to whom it is addressed," said Jackson, "and then report to me. But be sure that you say nothing of their contents to anybody."
The boy, still burning with zeal, hurried forth with the orders, delivered them all, and came back to the tent, where he found the general dictating to another aide. Jackson glanced at him and Harry, saluting, said:
"I have given all the orders, sir, to those for whom they were intended."
"Very well," said Jackson. "Wait and I shall have more messages for you to carry."
He turned to the second aide, but seeming to remember something, looked at his watch.
"Have you had any breakfast, Mr. Kenton?" he said.
"I slept well, sir, night before last."
Harry's reply was given in all seriousness. Jackson smiled. The boy's reply and his grave manner pleased him.
"I won't give you any more orders just now," he said. "Go out and get something to eat, but do not be gone longer than half an hour. You need sleep, too--but that can wait."
"I shall be glad to carry your orders, sir, now. The food can wait, too. I am not hungry."
Harry spoke respectfully. There was in truth an appealing note in his voice. Jackson gave him another and most searching glance.
"I think I chose well when I chose you," he said. "But go, get your breakfast. It is not necessary to starve to death now. We may have a chance at that later."
The faintest twinkle of grim humor appeared in his eyes and Harry, withdrawing, hastened at once to the Invincibles, where he knew he would have food and welcome in plenty.
St. Clair and Langdon greeted him with warmth and tried to learn from him what was on foot.
"There's a great bustle," said Langdon, "and I know something big is ahead. This is the last day of the Old Year, and I know that the New Year is going to open badly. I'll bet you anything that before to-morrow morning is an hour old this whole army will be running hot-foot over the country, more afraid of Stonewall Jackson than of fifty thousand of the enemy."
"But you've been in training for it," said Harry with a laugh.
"So I have, but I don't want to train too hard."
Harry ate and drank and was back at General Jackson's tent in twenty minutes. He had received a half hour but he was learning already to do better than was expected of him.