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XXVII SOME FALL, SOME PLUNGE
At a farm-house well hidden in the woods of a creek we got a brave supper for the asking and had our uniforms wonderfully cleaned and pressed, and at ten that evening we dismounted before the three brightly illumined tents of General Austin, Major Harper and that amiable cipher our Adjutant-general. On the front of the last the shadow of a deeply absorbed writer showed through the canvas, and Ferry murmured to me "The ever toiling." It was Scott Gholson. I had heard the same name for him the evening before, from her whose own lovely shadow fell so visibly and so often upon the bright curtain of Ned Ferry's thought.

My leader went in while I held our horses. Then he and Gholson came out and entered the General's tent; from which Gholson soon emerged again and sent an orderly away into the gloom of the sleeping camp, and I heard a small body of men mount and set off northward. Presently Ferry came out and sent me in, and to my delight I found, on standing before the General, that I did not need to tell what Charlotte Oliver wanted kept back.

"No, never mind that," he said, "Miss Rothvelt was here and saw me this afternoon, herself." Up to the point of my arrival at the bridge I had merely to fumble my cap and answer his crisp questions. But there he lighted a fresh cigar and said "Now, go on."

Gholson dropped in with something to be signed, and the General waved him to wait and hear. For Gholson, despite the sappy fetor of his mental temperament, had abilities that made him almost a private secretary to the General. Who, nevertheless, knew him thoroughly. When I had described Oliver's escape and would have hurried on to later details, General Austin raised a hand.

"Hold on; you say nearly everybody fired at Oliver; who did not?" "I did not, General."

"Did Lieutenant Ferry fire?"

I said he did not. The General turned his strong eyes to Gholson's and kept them there while he took three luxurious puffs at his cigar. Then he took the waiting paper, and as he wrote his name on it he said, smiling, "I wish you had been in Lieutenant Ferry's place, Mr. Gholson; you would have done your duty."

The flattered Gholson received the signed paper and passed out, and the General smiled again, at his back. I hope no one has ever smiled the same way at mine.

Ferry and I slept side by side that night, and he told me two companies of our Louisianians were gone to cut off Jewett and his band. "Still, I think they will be much too late," he said, and when I rather violently turned the conversation aside to the subject of Scott Gholson, saying, to begin with, that Gholson had wonderful working powers, he replied, "'Tis true. Yet he says the brigade surgeon told him to-day he is on the verge of a nervous break-down." But on my inquiring as to the cause of our friend's condition, my bedmate pretended to be asleep.

We rose at dawn and rode eastward, he and I alone, some fourteen miles, to the Sessions's, where the dance had been two nights earlier. On entering the stable to put up our horses we suddenly looked at each other very straight, while Ferry's countenance confessed more pleasure than surprise, though a touch of care showed with it. "I did not know this," he said, "and I did not expect it."

What we saw was the leather-curtained spring-wagon and its little striped-legged mules. The old negro in charge of them bowed gravely to me and smiled affectionately upon Ferry. About an hour later Gholson appeared. He took such hurried pains to explain his coming that any fool could have seen the real reason. The brigade surgeon had warned him--Oh! had I heard?--Oh! from Ned Ferry, yes. The cause of his threatened breakdown, he said, was the perpetual and fearful grind of work into which of late he had--fallen.

"Did the doctor say 'fallen'?" I shrewdly asked.

"No, the doctor said 'plunged,' but--did Ned Fer'--who put that into your head?"

"Nobody; some fall, you know, some plunge." I did not ask the cause of the plunge; the two little mules told me that. He would never have come, Gholson hurried on to say, had not Major Harper kindly suggested that a Sabbath spent with certain four ladies would be a timely preventive.

"What!" I cried, "are they here t'--too? Why,--where's their carryall? 'Tisn't in the stable; I've looked!"

"No, it was here, but yesterday, when the fighting threatened to be heavy, it was sent to the front. Smith, I didn't know Charlie Tolliver was here!"

I believed him. But I saw he was not in search of a preventive. Ah, no! he was ill of that old, old malady which more than any other abhors a preventive. Waking in the summer dawn and finding Ned Ferry risen and vanished hitherward, a rival's instinct had moved him to follow, as the seeker for wild honey follows the bee. He had come not for the cure of his honey-sickness, but for more--more--more--all he could find--of the honey. "Smith," he said, with a painful screw of his features, "I'm mightily troubled about Ned Ferry!"

"Yes," I dishonestly responded, "his polished irreligion--"

"Oh, no! No," he groaned, "it isn't that so much just now, though I know that to a true religionist like you the society of such a mere romanticist--"

We were interrupted.


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