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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Cavalier - Chapter 26. A Salute Across The Dead-Line
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The Cavalier - Chapter 26. A Salute Across The Dead-Line Post by :Sandi_McQuade Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :811

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The Cavalier - Chapter 26. A Salute Across The Dead-Line

CHAPTER XXVI. A SALUTE ACROSS THE DEAD-LINE

I was not seeking enemies just then and was not pleased. "Didn't the Yankees fall back this morning before day and move southward?" I asked.

"For what would they do that?" inquired my leader, still using the glass, but before I could reply he gave a soft hiss, dropped the glass, and turned his unaided eye upon a point close beyond our field, in the road. Now again he lifted the glass, and I saw over there two small, black, moving objects. They passed behind some fence-row foliage, reappeared nearer, and suddenly bobbed smartly up to the roadside fence--the dusty hats of two Federal horsemen. The wearers sat looking over into the field between them and us. I asked Ferry if he wasn't afraid they would see us.

"That is what we want," was his reply; "only, they must not know we want it. Keep very still; don't move." At that word they espied us and galloped back.

We turned to our left and hurried along our own fence-line, first eastward, then south, and reined up behind some live brush at the edge of the public road. "Soon know how many they are, now," he said, smiling back at me.

"Are you going to count them?" It seemed so much easier to let them count us.

"Yes," he replied. "Wish we had our boys here," he added, and did not need to tell me how he would have posted them; the place was so favorable for an ambush that those Yankees had no doubt been looking for us before they saw us. Half of us would be in the locks of these highroad fences to lure them on, and half in the little gully masked with canes to take them in the flank. "We would count many times our own number before they should pass," he added.

"Can't we make them think our men are here?" I suggested. "Couldn't I go back to where this fence crosses the gully and let them see me opening a gap in it?"

He was amused. "Go if you want; but be quick; here they come already, a small bunch of them."

By the time I reached the spot they were in plain view, six men and an officer. I leaped to the ground, tugged at a rail and threw one end off. I thought I had never handled rails so heavy and slippery in my life. As I got a second one down I looked across to the road. The officer was distributing his men. Barely a mile behind was the dust of their column. The third rail stuck and the sweat began to pour down into my eyes and collar. Two of the blue-coats easily let down a panel of fence on the far side of the road and pushed into the tall corn; three others came galloping across the thin cotton to reconnoitre the fringe of canes; the officer and the remaining man cantered on up the road toward the spot where I could see Ferry observing everything from the saddle behind his mask of leaves. Of a sudden the Federal commander descried me wildly at work. He paused and pointed me out to the man at his back, but had no glass and seemed puzzled. At his word the man pricked up to the fence to come over it, but his horse was of another mind, and the impatient officer, crowding him away, cleared the fence himself and came across the furrows at a nimble trot. Still I tussled with the rails, and grew peevish. The enemy was counted, closely enough! one troop. Their dust showed it, the small advance guard proved it.

"Hello!" called the Federal officer, "who are you, over there?"

He might have known by looking a trifle more narrowly; I saw plainly, thrillingly, who he was; but his attention was diverted by some signal from the men he had sent to the fringe of cane; they had found the tracks of horses leading through the canes into the corn. But now he hailed me again. "Here, you! what are you doing at that fence? Who are you?"

He was within easy range and was still trotting nearer. I snatched up my carbine, aimed, and then recovered, looking sharply to my left as if restrained by the command of some one behind the canes. The Federal's cool daring filled me with admiration. Had the foes he was looking for been actually in hiding here they could have picked him out of his saddle like a bird off a bush. His only chance was that they would not let themselves be teased into firing prematurely on any one man or six. Ferry beckoned me. I mounted and trotted down the woods side of the fence, at the same time the Federal's six men approached from three directions, and down the road the main column entered upon the scene.

The officer halted with revolver drawn and sent a man back with some order to the main body. And then Ferry's beautiful brown horse, as though of his own choice, reared straight up where he stood, dropped his forelegs upon his breast, rose, over the fence, master and all, as unlaboriously as a kite, trotted out from the brush and halted in the open field. His rider's outdrawn sword flashed to the setting sun. The Federal, pointing here and there was deploying his remaining five men toward the spot I had left, but glancing round and seeing Ferry he trotted toward him. Thereupon Ferry advanced at a walk, and I--for I had followed him--moved at the same gait a few paces behind. "Halt him," said my leader.

"Halt!" I yelled with carbine at a ready, and the Federal halted. In fact he had come to a small hollow full of bushes and grapevines and had no choice but to halt or go round it.

"Don't swallow him," said Ferry, smilingly, "this isn't your private war."

"He's on my private horse!" I retorted.

"Well, you're on his," replied my commander. The giant before us, mounted on Cricket, was my prisoner of the previous day.

"Who are you?" he was calling imperiously.

"Captain Jewett ought to know," Ferry called back, and on that the questioner recognized us both. He became very stately. "Lieutenant Durand, I believe."

"At times," said Lieutenant Durand.

"And at other times--?"

"Lieutenant Ferry--Ferry's scouts."

The Federal expanded with surprise and then with austere pleasure. He glanced toward his five men galloping back to him having found no enemy, and then at his column, which had just halted. Frowning, he motioned the advance guard to the road again and once more hailed Ferry while he pointed at me. He straightened and swelled still more as he began his question, but as he finished it a smile went all over him. "Is that your entire present force?"

"It is."

"Then what the devil do you want?" he thundered.

"We have what we wanted," said Ferry, "only now we desire to cross the road."

"You're not asking my permission?"

"I am afraid not."

"I admit you are quite able to cross without."

"Thank you," said Ferry; "will you pardon me for passing in front of you?"

The Federal's pistol slid into its holster and his sabre flashed out. He threw its curved point up in a splendid salute. Ferry saluted with his straight blade. Then both swords rang back into their scabbards, and Jewett whirled away toward his column. For a moment we lingered, then faced to the left, trotted, galloped. Over the fence and into the road went he--went I. Down it, as we crossed, the blue column was just moving again. Then the woods on the south swallowed us up.

(Illustration: Ferry saluted with his straight blade.)

"If Captain Jewett will only go on to Union Church," said Ferry, "Quinn will see that he never gets back."

"But you think he will not go on?"

"Ah, now he is discovered, surely not. I think he will turn back at Wiggins."

"Why Wiggins? does he know Coralie Rothvelt?"

"Yes, he does; and if since last night he has maybe found out she is Charlotte Oliver,--"

"Oh! Lieutenant Ferry, oh! would such a man as that come hunting down a woman, with a troop of cavalry?"

"He is not hunting her; yet, should he find her, I have the fear he would do his duty as a soldier, anyhow. No, he _was looking, I think, for Ferry's scouts."

"But if she should be at Wiggins--"

My leader smiled at my simplicity. "She is not at Wiggins."

"Where is she?"

"I do not know."

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