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XXII WE SPEED A PARTING GUEST
Rising to higher ground, we turned into the Natchez, and Port Gibson road where a farm-house and country "store" constituted Clifton. Still at a gallop we left these behind and entered a broad lane between fields of tasselling corn, where we saw a gallant sight. In the early sunlight and in the pink dust of their own feet, down the red clay road at an easy trot in column by fours, the blue-gray of their dress flashing with the glint of the carbines at their backs, came Ferry's scouts with Ned Ferry at their head. There was his beautiful brown horse under him, too. My captive and I dropped to a walk, the column did the same, and Ferry trotted forward, beckoning us to halt. His face showed triumph and commendation, but no joy. Oliver answered his scrutiny with a blaze of defiance.

"Good-morning, Smith, who is your prisoner?"

"His name is Oliver."

Ferry looked behind to the halted column. "Lieutenant Quinn, send two men to guard this one. Smith, where's Sergeant Langley; where's Kendall? Kendall?"

While I told of the scrimmage, the guard relieved me of Oliver, and as I finished, three men galloped up and reined in. "All right," said one, saluting.

"South?" asked our leader.

"Before day," replied the new-comer, glowing with elation, and I grasped the fact that the enemy had taken our bait and I had not betrayed my country. The three men went to the column, and Ferry, looking up from the despatch which I had delivered to him, said--

"Of course no one has seen this despatch, eh?--Oh!"--a smile--"yes? who?"

"Two Federal officers."

"Two--what?" His smile broadened. "You know that?"

"I saw them, Lieutenant, looking in at the door to see the despatch put back under my pillow. Yes, sir, by the same hand that had shown it to them."

"Whose hand was it; that fellow's, yonder?" Oliver was several paces away.

"No, Lieutenant, I don't believe he had anything to do with it; and I've no absolute proof, either, that he was at the bridge to rob or kill me. I threatened his life first, sir. At any rate that hand under my pillow was neither his nor his father's."

"But they were present, eh?"

"They were neither of them present, Lieutenant; that hand was Miss Coralie Rothvelt's."

"Oh, no!" he murmured, "that cannot be!" "I saw her face, Lieutenant, nearer to mine than yours is now. But she did it to help us--oh, but I know that, sir! She came under my window and told me she had done it! She told me to tell you she hadn't thwarted your plan, but only improved on it, and I believe--Lieutenant, if you will hear me patiently through a confession which--" I choked with emotion.

He lighted up with happy relief. "No, you need not make it. And you need not turn so pale." Whereat I turned red. "She saw the despatch was a trap for the Yankees, and used it so, you think? Ah, yes, Smith, I see it all, now; she pumped you dry."

I could not speak, I shook my head, and for evidence in rebuttal I showed in my eyes two fountains of standing tears.

"How, then, did she know?"

"Lieutenant, she guessed! She must have just put two and two together and guessed! Or else, Lieutenant,--"

"She must have pumped others before she pumped you, eh?" There was confession in his good humor. "But tell me; did she not see also this other trap, for this man and his father, and try to save them out of it?--oh, if you don't want--never mind." He laid a leg over the front of his saddle and sat thinking. So I see him to-day: his chestnut locks, his goodly limbs and shoulders, the graceful boots, cut-away jacket, faded sash, straight sword, and that look of care on his features which intensified the charm of their spiritual cleanness; behind him his band of picked heroes, and for background the June sky. Whenever I smell dewy corn-fields smitten with the sun that picture comes back to me.

"No," he said again, "you need not tell me." By a placid light in his face I saw he understood. He drew his watch, put it back, thought on, and smiled at my uniform. "It has not the blue of the others," he said, "but indeed they are not all alike, and it will match the most of them--after a rain or two--and some dust. You have been trading horses?"

I explained. While doing so I saw one of the guard reaching the prisoner's bridle to the other. Hah! Oliver had slapped the bridle free. In went his spurs! By a great buffet on the horse's neck he wheeled him, and with the rein dangling under the bits went over the fence like a deer. "Bang! bang! bang!"

It was idle; a magic seems to shield a captive's leap for life. Away across the corn he went to the edge of a tangled wood, over the fence there again, and into the brush. "Halt! bang!" and "Halt! bang!" it was, at every bound, but now the pursuers came back empty-handed, some contemptuously silent, some laughing. Ferry glanced again at the time, and I was having within me a quarrel with him for his indifference at the prisoner's escape, when with cold severity he asked--

"Why did you not fire?"

I flushed with indignation, and my eye retorted to his that I had only followed his example. His answer was a smile. "You, also, have been guessing, eh?" he said, and when I glowed with gratitude he added,

"Never mind, we must have a long talk. At present there is a verbal message for me; what is it?"

"Verbal message? No, Lieutenant, she didn't--oh!--from the General! Yes! the General says--'Rodney.'"

He turned and moved to the head of the column. I followed. There, "Left into line wheel--march!" chanted our second in command. "Backwards--march!" and then "Right dress!" and the line, that had been a column, dressed along the western edge of the road with the morning sun in their faces. Then Ferry called "Fours from the right, to march to the left--march!" and he and Quinn passed up the middle of the road along the front of the line, with yours truly close at their heels, while behind us the command broke into column again by fours from the right and set the pink dust afloat as they followed back northward over their own tracks with Sergeant Jim beside the first four as squadron right guide. I had got where I was by some mistake which I did not know how to correct,--I was no drill-master's pride,--and there was much suppressed amusement at my expense along the front as we rode down it. At every few steps until the whole line was a column Ned Ferry dropped some word of cheer, and each time there would come back an equally quiet and hearty reply. Near the middle he said "Brisk work ahead of us to-day, boys," and I heard the reiteration of his words run among the ranks. I also heard one man bid another warm some milk for the baby. Trotting by a grove where the company had passed the night, we presently took the walk to break by twos, and as we resumed the trot and turned westward into a by-road, Lieutenant Quinn dropped back to the column and sent me forward to the side of Ned Ferry. I went with cold shivers.
With the rein dangling under the bits he went over the fence like a deer.


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