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XII IN THE GENERAL'S TENT
I went to Gholson. He told me I was relieved of my captive and bade me go care for my horse and return in half an hour. In going I passed close by the Sessions plantation house. Every door and window was thrown wide to the night air, and preparations were in progress for a dance; and as I returned, a slave boy ran across my path, toward the house, bearing a flaming pine torch and followed by two ambulances filled with daughters of the neighborhood in clouds of white gauze. I found the General in fatigue dress. His new finery hung on the tent-pole at his back. Old Dismukes, the bull-necked colonel of the Arkansans, lounged on a camp-cot. Both smoked cigars.

The General asked me a number of idle questions and then said my prisoner had called me a good soldier. Old Dismukes smiled so broadly that I grew hot, believing the Yankee had told them of my tears.

"Smith," said the Colonel, and then smoked and smiled again till my brow beaded,--"tired?"

"No, sir."

"That's a lie," he pleasantly remarked, and lay back, enjoying my silent wrath. "Send him, General," he added, "he's your man."

The General looked at me between puffs of his cigar. "I hear you've ridden over fifty miles to-day."

"Yes, General." "If I give you a good fresh horse can you go twenty-three miles more by midnight?"

"Yes, General, if I don't have to save the horse."

"The horse may have to save you," drawled the Arkansan.

"I think you know Lieutenant Durand?" asked the General, with a quizzical eye.

"Slightly."

"Well, Smith, on his suggestion approved by Major Harper, I have detailed another clerk to the Major."

Rills of perspiration tickled my back like flies. "Can't one man do the work?"

"Yes, the new man is detailed in your place."

I almost leaped from the ground in consternation. My whole frame throbbed, my mouth fell open, my tongue was tied.

The man who had got me into this thing--this barrel--lifted the tent-flap. "Mr. Gholson," said the General, "write an order assigning Smith to Ferry's scouts."

The flap fell again and my panic was turned into a joy qualified only by a reduced esteem for my general as a judge of character.

Old Dismukes rose. "Good-night. Shall I send this boy that Yankee's horse?"

"Oh I was forgetting that; yes, do!"

At the door the Colonel gave me a last look. "Good-night, Legs."

I dared not retort, but I looked so hard at his paunch that the General smiled. Then he asked me if I knew where we were then camped, and I said we were on the Meadville and Fayette road, near Franklin, twenty miles southeast of Fayette and--

"That will do. Now, beyond Fayette, about seven miles north, there's a place--"

"Clifton?"

"Don't interrupt me, Smith. Yes, Clifton. You're not to reach there to-night--"

"I can do it, General."

"You can do as you're told; understand?" I understood.

"The enemy are in Fayette to-night," he continued. "So when you get half-way to Fayette, just across Morgan's Creek, you'll take a dim fork on the right running north along the creek. Ever travel by the stars?"

I began to tell how well I knew the stars, but he stopped me. "Yes; well, keep straight north till you strike the road running east and west between Fayette and union Church. You'll find there a little polling-place called Wiggins. Turn west, toward Fayette, and on the north side of the main road, opposite the blacksmith's shop, you'll come to a small--"

"I see."

"What do you see?" His frown scared me to my finger-tips.

"Why, I suppose I'm to find there a road down Cole's Creek to Clifton."

"Smith, if you interrupt me again, sir, you'll find the road back to your regiment. Opposite that blacksmith's shop you'll see a white cottage. There's a young lady stopping there to-night, a stranger, a traveller. The old lady who lives there has taken her in at my request. See that the young lady gets this envelope. It's no great matter, merely a pass through our lines; but it's your ostensible business till you get there; understand?"

I thought I did until I glanced at the superscription: Miss Coralie Rothvelt.

"Now, here is another matter of much more importance." He showed, but retained, another envelope. "Behind the house where you're to find Miss Rothvelt there's a road into Cole's Creek bottom. The house you're to stop at to-night, say from twelve o'clock till three or half-past, is on that road, about five miles from Wiggins, from Clifton and from Fayette. I'm sending you there expecting the people in that house will rob you if you give them half a chance."

"I understand, General; they'll not get it."

"Smith, I want them to get it. I want them to rob you of this." He waggled the envelope. "I want this to fall into the hands of the enemy; as it will if those people rob you of it."

I snapped my eyes. He smiled and then frowned. "I don't want a clumsy job, now, mind! I don't want you to get captured if you can possibly avoid it; but all the same they mustn't get this so easily as to suspect it's a bait. So I want you to give those villains that half-chance to rob you, but not the other half, or they may--oh, it's no play! You must manage to have this despatch taken from you totally against your will! Then you must reach Clifton shortly after daylight. Ferry's scouts are there, and you'll say to Lieutenant Ferry the single word, Rodney. Understand?" He pretended to be reconsidering. "I--don't know but--after all--I'd better send one of my staff instead of you."

"Oh, General, if you send an officer they'll see the ruse! I can do it! I'll do it all right!"

"I'm most afraid," he said, abstractedly, as he read my detail, which Gholson brought in. "Here,"--he handed it to me--"and here, here's the despatch too."

"What's the name, General, of the man whose house I'm to go to?"

"You'd best not know; I want you to seem to have stumbled upon the place. You can't miss it; there's no other house within two miles of it. Good-bye, my lad;"--he gave me his hand;--"good luck to you."

Gholson, in the Adjutant-general's tent, told me Ned Ferry had named me to the General as a first-class horseman and the most insignificant- looking person he knew of who was fit for this venture.

"Ned Ferry! What does Ned Ferry know about my fitness?"

"Read the address on your despatch," said Gholson, resuming his pen.

I snatched the document from my bosom, into which I had thrust it to seize the General's hand "Oh, Gholson!" I said, in deep-toned grief, as I looked up from the superscription, "is that honest!"

He admitted that by the true religionist's standard it was not honest, but reminded me that Ned Ferry--in his blindness--was only a poor romanticist. The despatch was addressed to Lieutenant Edgard Ferry-Durand.

Major Harper's black boy brought me the Yankee's horse with my bridle and saddle on him; an elegant animal as fresh as a dawn breeze. Also he produced a parcel, my new uniform, and a wee note whose breath smelt of lavender as it said,--

"Papa tells us you are being sent off on courier duty to-night. What a heart-breaking thing is war! How full of cruel sepa'--"

That piece of a word was scored out and "dangers" written in its place. The missive ended all too soon, with the statement that I was requested to call, on my way out of camp, at the side gallery of the house-- Sessions's--and let the writer and her sister and her cousin and her father and her aunt see me in my new uniform and bid me good-bye.



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