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X THE SOLDIER'S HOUR
To regain the highroad we had turned into a northerly fork, and were in as lovely a spot as we had seen all day. Before us and close on our right were the dense woods of magnolia, water-oak, tupelo and a hundred other affluent things that towered and spread or clambered and hung. On the left lay the old field, tawny with bending sedge and teeming with the yellow rays of the sun's last hour. This field we overlooked through a fence-row of persimmon and wild plum. Among these bushes, half fallen into a rain-gully, a catalpa, of belated bloom, was loaded with blossoms and bees, and I was directing Camille's glance to it when the shots came. Another outcry or two followed, and then a weird silence.

"Some of our boys attacked by a rabbit," I suggested, but still hearkened.

"That was not play, Mr. Smith," Miss Harper had begun to respond, when a voice across the sedge-field called with startling clearness,

"Hi! there goes one of them!--Halt!--Halt, you blue--" pop!--pop!--pop!

"Prisoners making a break!" I forgot all my tatters and stood on tiptoe in the stirrups to overpeer the fence-row. The next instant--"Sh--sh!" said I and slid to the ground. "Hold this bridle!" I gave it to Camille. "Don't one of you make a sound or a motion; there's a Yankee coming across this field in the little gully just behind us."

I bent low, ran a few steps, cocking my revolver as I went. Then I rose, peeped, bent again, ran, rose, peeped, waited a few seconds behind the catalpa, and without rising peeped once more. Here he came! He was an officer. His uniform was torn and one whole side of him showed he had at some earlier hour ridden through a hedge and fallen from his horse. On he came! nearer--nearer--oh, what a giant! Quickly, warily, he crouched under the fence where it hung low across the gully, and half through it in that huddled posture he found my revolver between his astonished eyes. I did not yell at him, for I did not want the men he had escaped from to come and take him from me; yet when I said, "Halt, or you die!" the four ladies heard me much too plainly. For, frankly, I said more and worse. I felt my slenderness, my beardless youth, my rags, and his daring, and to offset them all in a bunch, I--I cursed him. I let go only one big damn and I've never spoken one since, though I've done many a worse thing, of course. I protest it was my modesty prompted it then.

"I surrender," he said, with amiable ease. I stepped back a pace and he drew out and straightened up--the tallest man I had ever seen. I laughed, he smiled, laughed; my eyes filled with tears, I blazed with rage, and in plain sight and hearing of those ladies he said, "That's all right, my son, get as scared as you like; only, you don't need to cry about it."

"Hold your tongue!" I barked my wrath like a frightened puppy, drawing back a stride and laying my eye closer along the pistol. "If you call me your son again I'll send you to your fathers."

His smile darkened. "I am your prisoner," he said, with a sudden splendid stateliness, and right then I guessed who he was.

"Yess, sir, you are!" I retorted. "Move to that wagon! And if you take one step out of common time you'll never take another."

The aunt and her nieces were standing in the carry-all, she majestic, they laughing and weeping in the one act. I waved them into their seats.

"Halt!" We halted. "About face!" As the prisoner eyed me both of us listened. His equanimity was almost winsome, and I saw that friendliness was going to be his tactics.

"Guess I'm the first Yankee y' ever caught, ain't I?" His smile was superior, but congratulatory.

"You'll be the first prisoner I ever shot if you get any funnier!"

We listened again. "They've gone the wrong way," I said, still savage.

"No," he replied, "I came the wrong way."

The ladies smiled; I glowered. "Take those horses by their heads and turn them to me!"

An instant his superb eye resented, but then he pleasantly did my bidding. "Suits me well; rather chance it with you than with those I've just left."
I surrender, he said, with amiable ease.

"Easier to get away, you think?" I asked, with a worse frown than ever, as he stepped into the carry-all and took the lines.

"No, not so easy; but those fellows are Arkansans, and they're in a bad humor with me."

I took the hint and grew less ferocious. "While you," I said, "are Captain Jewett."

"I am," was his reply, and my heart leaped for joy. We hurried away. My captive was the most daring union scout between Vicksburg and New Orleans; these very Harpers knew that. The thing unknown to us was that already his fate was entangled with Ned Ferry's and Charlotte Oliver's, as yet more it would be, with theirs and ours, in days close at hand.


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