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IV THREE DAYS' RATIONS
In the vocabulary of a prig, but in the wrath of a fishwoman, I execrated Scott Gholson; his jealousies, his disclosures, his religion, his mispronunciations; and Ned Ferry--that cockerel! Here was I in the barrel, and able only to squeal in irate terror at whoever looked down upon me. I could have crawled under a log and died. At the door of the Major's tent I paused to learn and joy of one to whom comes reprieve when the rope is on his neck, I overheard Harry Helm, the General's nephew and aide de-camp, who had been with us, telling what a howling good joke Smith had just got off on Gholson!

"We shall have to get Ned Ferry back here," the Major was saying as I entered, "to make you boys let Scott Gholson alone."

The young man laughed and turned to go. "Why doesn't Ned Ferry make her let Gholson alone? He can do it; he's got her round his finger as tight as she's got Gholson round hers."

"Harry," replied the Major, from his table full of documents, "don't you know that any man who's got a woman wrapped round his finger has also got her wrapped round his throat?"

The aide-de-camp laughed like a rustic and vanished. "Smith," said the Major, "your eyes are--"

"I've been awake for forty-eight hours, Major. But--oh, I'm not sleepy."

"Well, go get some sleep.--No, go at once; you'll be called when needed."

But I was not needed; while I slept, who should come back and do my work in my stead but Ned Ferry. When I awoke it was with a bound of alarm to see clear day. The command was breaking camp. I rushed out of the tent with canteen, soap and comb, and ran into the arms of the mess-cook. We were alone. "Oh, yass, seh," he laughed as he poured the water into my hands, "th'ee days' rairtion. Seh? Lawd! dey done drawed and cook' befo' de fus' streak o' light. But you all right; here yo' habbersack, full up. Oh, I done fed yo' hoss. Here yo' jacket an' cap; and here yo' saddle an' bridle--Oh, you welcome; I dess tryin' to git shet of 'em so's I kin strak de tent."

As I mounted, our wagonmaster rode by me, busy as a skipper in a storm. "Oh, here!" he cried, wheeled, and reaching something to me added, "that's your pass. Major Harper wants you as quick as you can show up. He says never mind the column, ride straight after him. Keep this road to Hazlehurst and then go down the main Brookhaven road till you overtake him. He's by himself--nearly."

As the rider wheeled away I blurted out with anxious loudness in the general hubbub, "Isn't his brother with him?"

He flashed back a glare of rebuke and then bellowed to heaven and earth, "Oh, the devil and Tom Walker! I don't keep run of sutlers and citizens!" He took a circuit, standing in his stirrups and calling orders to his teamsters, and as he neared me again he said very gently, "Good Lord! my boy, don't you know better than to shoot your mouth off like that? You'll find nobody with the Major but Ned Ferry, and I don't say you'll find him."

I galloped to the road. Away down through the woods it was full of horsemen falling into line. With the nearest colonel was Lieutenant Helm, the aide-de-camp. I turned away from them toward Hazlehurst, but looked back distrustfully. Yes, sure enough, the whole command was facing into column the other way! My horse and I whirled and stood staring and swelling with indignation--we ordered south, and the brigade heading westward! He fretted, tramped, neighed, and began hurriedly to paw through the globe to head them off on the other side. He even threatened to rear; but when I showed him I was ashamed of that, he bore me proudly, and I sat him as proudly as he bore me, for he made me more than half my friends. And now as the aide-de-camp wheeled about from the receding column and came our way saluting cordially, we turned and trotted beside him jauntily. Our first talk was of saddles, but very soon I asked where the General was.

"Out on the Natchez Trace waiting for the command. I'm carrying orders to Fisher's battery, down here by the cross-roads. Haven't you seen the General this morning? What! haven't seen him in his new uniform? Whoop! he's a blaze of glory! Look here, Smith, I believe you know who brought it to him!"

"How on earth should I know?"

"Oh, how innocent you always are! Look here! just tell me this; was it the Major's brother brought it, or was it Ned Ferry?"

"Suppose it wasn't either."

"I knew it! I knew it was her! Ah, you rogue, you know it was her!"

"Well, that might depend on who 'her' is." We had reached the cross-roads and he was turning south.

"Look!" he said, and gave the glance and smile of the lady in the curtained wagon so perfectly that I cackled like a small boy. "Oh, you know that, do you? I dare you to say she didn't bring it!"

"I give you my word I don't know!" called I as the distance grew between us. "And I give you my word I don't care!" he crowed back as we galloped apart. His speech was two or three words longer, but they are inappropriate at the end of a chapter, and I expurgate.


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