Page images
PDF
EPUB

The dawn is not far off. What thoughts come to the boy soldier as he watches there ?-his mother, who loves him, and whose life would be left so desolate if any accident should happen to him—the deadly terrible war; (and when, when will it ever end ?) the strange sense of loneliness and mystery that fills him as he listens, and looks up at the far, dim stars; and, beating under all, a wild pulse of ambition, as he thinks of the glory which may be won.

Hark! what is that ? Surely a sound of hoofs, distant, moving slowly as with cautious approach.

“Jake!" whispers Fred; "a troop of horse !"

“It's only our videttes," says Jake, languidly. “You and old Joel are always seeing bugbears."

A small stream flows through a ravine in front of the picket line. Beyond that the ground is broken and partially wooded. Ridge and hollow are beginning to appear faintly defined in the early December twilight. Fred strains his eyes, gazing to catch the first indication of a movement in that direction. Suddenly, crack ! crack! The enemy has been discovered by pickets farther down, and been fired upon.

The reports are a signal of alarm to the outposts. They also serve as a signal to the enemy that his approach is perceived. Instantly the muffled sound of hoofs breaks into a clatter, a clash-a galloping headlong rush over the hillsides, down the slopes—crash, crash through the thickets! plash, plash, into the water! and crack, crack, flash, flash, all along the line of pickets !

“Told ye so!” cried old Joel. " I said there'd be an attack."

“Nothing but a little cavalry dash !" says Jake, alert. "Don't ye run!" (Jake is decidedly averse to running.) "I don't believe there's going to be much of a shower!"

"They have dashed into our boys below !” cries Fred. “Fall back, or we shall be cut off.”

"Don't ye run, I tell ye!" reiterates Jake. "The boys down there will look out for themselves. It's onls

can

a little squad of guerillas : stand our ground, and we'll capture the whole caboodle of 'em !”

The firing is rapid, but irregular. Pistol-shots mingle with rifle-shots. Then the clash of sabres, shrieks, shouts, yells. The pickets fall back upon their guard—Jake and his companions with the rest, but more slowly than some-too slowly; for suddenly the rebel cavalry are upon them. Having dashed into the line, and captured a few prisoners, they wheel, and make a swoop to take in what prisoners they can. Here they come, a swift, tumultuous troop, yelling, with sabres in air.

“ Rally by fours !" shouts Jake. There is an attempt to rally, but it is useless. What

a few scattered bayonets do against such an impetuous charge of cavalry?

“Quarter!” cries old Joel, throwing down his musket, and throwing up his hands.

“Blast the luck!" growls Jake, following the discreet example.

Fred does the same; but he has fired first, emptying one saddle.

They have yielded just in time. The rebels surround them, more like demons than men, spurring, brandishing their sabres, and driving them furiously down the slope into the water, and into the thickets across the stream.

A body of Federal cavalry, with an infantry support, soon comes charging after them. The pursuit is kept up, with occasional skirmishing in the rear of the raiders, until a strong force of rebels, advancing to their protection, charges in turn, and drives the pursuers back.

“ My mother!—what will she think?” is Fred's bitter reflection, when all hope of rescue is over. “There isn't much glory in this, is there, boys ?"

“It's rascally,” says Jake, “ to make men travel this way!

It's bettern being mowed down on the spot with

!

them pesky sabres,” says old Joel. "Hanged if I didn't think 'twas all over with us, one spell. It's all owing to that spy. But, boys, there's one thing—we may live to see him ketched and hung, yet !"

These words are uttered at intervals, with panting breath ; for the poor fellows are well-nigh exhausted with their forced march. The pursuit over, the rebels slacken their pace; and two or three of the prisoners, who have been wounded, are taken upon

horses. "I'll take this boy behind me,” says one. “Mount, youngster!”

Fred is seized by the collar: Jake gives him a boost, and he is mounted behind the horseman. "They think I'm wounded,” he says to himself; “but never mind the mistake!”

" Here! hello! I'm disabled !” says Jake, hugely discontented with his forced march. “Give us a lift, can't ye?"

“I'll give you a slash over the head, if ye don't keep quiet!” answers one of the guard, pricking him on with his sword-point.

Fred had not ridden far behind the horseman, when he perceived that he was becoming separated from his companions. They were hurried on, closely guarded ; while the man who had him in charge gradually fell into the rear.

“That was rather a neat operation, Daniels,” said an officer, reining up beside them. He was a brigandishlooking man, with long black hair, and a face almost hidden by a thick beard, out of which advanced a stout red nose.

He appeared garnished all over with pistols : there were pistols stuck in his belt, and pistols in his holsters, besides a formidable pair which he wore in the legs of his boots.

“Very neat indeed, captain," replied the man, in a voice that sounded strangely familiar to Fred's ear.

“Is that boy badly hurt ?” asked the captain.

“Not so but that he can ride by holding on to me. Are you

faint ? "_to red.

“No, not very," said Fred, puzzled and astonished.

He tried to remember where he had heard that voice. His guard was clad in the ordinary dress of a citizen, and he wore no sword.

“I must tighten this girth a little, if my horse is to carry double,” he said loud enough for the captain's ear, and halted.

He seemed about to dismount. He of the pistols also drew rein, asking if he could be of any assistance.

“No,” said Daniels. “I reckon I'll let it go for the present.” And he spurred on again, after endeavouring to tighten the girth without dismounting.

During the brief halt the distance between them and the main body had materially increased. Moreover, something else had happened of deep interest to Fred. The horseman, tugging at the strap to which the saddle was buckled, had turned his profile towards his prisoner. Glimpses of the silver east, brightening through the trees, shone upon it, lighting for an instant the

russet beard, the calm, resolute face, the deep, quiet eyes, shadowed by the felt-hat. It was the same profile Fred had daguerreotyped upon his memory the evening before, when the suspected stranger turned from him, and walked over the hill into the fiery eye of the sunset.

“ Joel was right: the man is a spy! 'Twas he that guided the rebels ! He had examined our position, and knew just where to make the attack. But I may pay him yet!" The blood rushed violently to Fred's brain, and these were the thoughts that rushed with it.

“Come, Daniels, we shall be left quite behind !' called the officer.

“I am with you,” replied Daniels, spurring forward.

A desperate resolve flashed its light into the boy's soul. To be revenged upon this man, and at the same time to escape! Carefully he withdrew his right hand from the horseman's waist, carefully felt with it in his own pocket, and drew forth a knife. It was a stout knife, with a long, pointed blade. He opened it with

his teeth, behind the shoulder of the spy. Then, with the handle in his grasp and the blade in his sleeve, he softly returned his hand, now closed, to the horseman's waist, and awaited his chance.

“Perhaps the officer will ride on. Oh, to be one minute alone with this villain ! I'll strike him with all my might in his neck, tumble him off, snatch the reins, and away!"

Such were the boy's thoughts, not formed definitely in those words, but passing through his mind in electric flashes.

He saw the possibility of escape clearly enough, provided the officer would take himself out of the way. True, the rebel pickets were passed long ago; it was now broad day; they were in the enemy's cou

country, travelling the open road; and, although it was a good horse they mounted (as he was pleased to observe), he could not hope to gallop back to camp without encountering danger. He seemed to think of everything in an instant of time. He even thought of the glory of such an exploit, and of the delight of writing to his mother about it, when all was over. His plan was firmly outlined in his mind, -to plunge into the woods, and there, abandoning his horse, if necessary, to hide in the thickets from his pursuers, elude the rebel scouts, and make his way back at last, somehow, to the Union lines. Once more the spy's horse fell behind.

The man with the pistols galloped on after his companions. “Let him pass that ridge !" thought Fred, thoroughly nerved for his purpose, “ and then !” He examined the horseman's neck, and thought where he should strike.

“My boy, let me give you a word of advice," said the

spy, in a voice so calm and friendly that Fred felt compelled to wait and listen to him. Besides, the officer was not yet out of sight: nothing would be lost by a little delay.

“Well, sir," said Fred, in a tone he vainly en

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »