A Day in the Wilderness by Harold Frederic

  CHAPTER I.

THE VALLEY OF DEATH.

The rising sun lifted its first curved rim of dazzling light above the dark line of distant treetops just as the brigade band began a new tune—"The Faded Coat of Blue." The musicians themselves, huddled together under the shelter of a mound of rocks where the road descended into the ravine, did not get their share of this early morning radiance, but remained in the shadows.

Only a yard or two away from the outermost drummer-boy these shadows ended, and a picture began that was full of action and color, and flooded with golden sunshine.

The bandsmen, as they played, observed this picture, and thanked their stars they were no part of it. Better a whole life spent in the shade, than sunlight at such a price as was being paid for it out there in the road!

This road had never before been anything but a narrow, grass-grown, out-of-the-way track for mule-carts. Now it had become the bed of a broad, endless, moving human flood—filling it compactly from side to side, with ever a fresh wave of blue-coated men entering at the rear, where the scrub-oak opening began, and ever a front wave gliding off downward from view with that sinister slipperiness which arches the brow of a cataract.

The sense of motion conveyed by these thousands of passing men was at its perfection of rhythm just opposite the band. They were marching in eights, so close together that they trod continually on any lagging heel.

The ranks, when they first came in view, seemed pressing forward without much order. Then, as they drew close to the musicians, they fell into step instinctively, swung along in swaying unison for a few rods, and again lapsed into jagged irregularity as they swept downward behind the rock.

It was indeed only this shifting section of the dozen nearest ranks that could catch the strains of the band. The others, whether in van or rear, moved on with their hearing numbed by a ceaseless and terrible uproar which came from the ravine in front, and, mounting upward, seemed to shake the earth on which they trod.

The musicians might blow themselves red in the face, the drummers beat the strained sheepskins to bursting, and make no headway against this din of cannon.

The men of Boyce's brigade, as they came into the little space where they could hear the music above the artillery, and caught the step it was setting, hardly looked that way, but pushed forward with eyes straight ahead, and grave, drawn faces on which the cheerful sunlight seemed a mockery.

When the band had finished "The Faded Coat of Blue" the sky was still clear overhead, but from the gully below a dense cloud of smoke had spread upward to choke the morning light. While the bandsmen paused, blowing their instruments clear and breathing hard, this smoke began to thicken the air about the rock which sheltered them.

In a minute more the front figures of the endless moving chain before them seemed to be walking off into a fog, and the atmosphere was all at once heavy with the smell of gunpowder.

Curiously enough, the men's faces brightened at this. There came a block now somewhere on the road ahead, and the column halted. The regimental flags, with the color-guard, were just abreast of the band. The sergeant took out his knife to cut one of the furling strings that was in a hard knot, and untied the rest, shaking out the silken folds of the banners.

"I always untie 'em when we get into the smoke," he said, speaking at large.

The drummer-boy nearest the road moved over to study the flags. He held his head to one side and scrutinized them critically.

"No bullet holes in 'em yet, to speak of, I notice," he remarked to the sergeant, raising a clear, sharp young voice above the universal racket. "Guess you'll get enough to-day to make up!" he added.

The old sergeant nodded his head. "Something besides flags will get holes in 'em, too," he returned, lifting his voice also, like a man talking in the teeth of a roaring gale.

"What are you? Michiganders?" shouted the boy.

"No—Ohio!" the sergeant bawled back. "When they changed the corps, they brigaded us all up fresh, so that we don't know our own mothers. We've got in with some New Yorkers that ain't got no more sense than to chew fine-cut tobacco. You can't raise a plug in a whole regiment of 'em. Regular pumpkin-heads!"

"They'll show you fellows the way, down below there, though!" retorted the boy, his injured state pride adding shrillness to his tone. "Ohio's no good, anyhow!"

He instinctively moved beyond reach of the sergeant's boot, as he passed this last remark. Some of the men in the crowded ranks close by laughed at his impudence, and he himself was grinning with a sense of successful repartee, when he felt a hand laid on his shoulder. He looked up, and found himself confronting a young, fair-faced officer, who was regarding him with gravely gentle eyes.

"Don't say that about any men who are going out to die," this officer said; and though he did not seem to be speaking loudly, the words fell very distinctly. "I've got a brother at home about your size. So have lots of the rest of us here. We want to carry down there with us a pleasant notion of the last boy we saw."

"I was only fooling!" the drummer-boy rejoined.

There was no time for further words, as the preparatory rattle on the drum-edge behind warned him. In another minute he was back in his place, and the band was hurling forth into the general uproar the strains of "The Red, White, and Blue."

The column had begun to move again. The flags, the color-guard, the young officer with the sad, gentle eyes, had passed downward out of sight, and company after company of their regiment came pressing onward now.

The boy, as he kept up with his part of the familiar work, watched these Ohio men swing past. They seemed young fellows, for the most part, and their uniforms were significantly new and clean. Everything about them showed that they were going under fire for the first time, though they pushed forward as stoutly as veterans. The boy found himself hoping that a good many of these Ohio men would come back all right—and most of all that young officer who had a brother about his size.

All this while a group of field officers had been standing on the ridge up above the rocky mound which sheltered the band. Their figures, with broad hats and big-cuffed gauntlets, had grown indistinct against the sky as the smoke thickened. Now they gave up trying to follow through their glasses the movements in the vale below, and turned to descend.

Their horses, which men had been holding near the musicians, were hastily brought forward, and the general and his staff sprang into the saddle and trotted over toward the road.

The end of the column was in view, with its disorder of servants, baggage-carriers, soldiers who had lost their places, and behind, the looming canvas covers of ambulance-wagons and the train. Into the thick of this straggling mass General Boyce, sitting splendidly erect and with a bold smile on his rosy-cheeked face, spurred his way, and the staff in turn clattered after him down out of sight. The brigade had passed, and the band stopped playing.

Files of mules, heavily laden with stacks of cartridge-boxes, were still pouring along the road and being whacked down the ravine path; but the big wagons, as they came, halted, and were drawn off into the field to the left. Tall poles were taken out and set up. Coils of rope were unwound, stakes driven, and huge cylinders of canvas unrolled on the grass.

Soon there arose the gray outlines of tents—one dominating structure fully thirty yards long, and around it, like little mushrooms about the parent stool, a number of smaller tents, some square, some conical. The drummer-boy, his task ended, sauntered over with his companions toward the tents.

He paused to watch the heavy folds of canvas being hauled up to the ridge-pole of the big one. In one way it recalled those preparations on the old circus-ground at home which he used to watch with such zest. But in another way it was strangely different.

While some men tugged at the ropes or drove in stakes for the guy-lines, others were busy bringing from the wagons rolls of blankets and huge trusses of straw. Even before the roof was secure scores of rude beds were being spread on the trampled grass underneath.

Bearded and spectacled men, dressed after the fashion of officers, yet clearly not soldiers at all, were directing everything now. Among them, here and there, flitted young women, clad also in a sort of uniform, who seemed busiest of all.

No, this was decidedly different from a circus tent. The thunder of the batteries on the other side of the ridge was alone enough to throw a solemn meaning over this long, barn-like house of ropes and cloths. It was the brigade hospital-tent, and the hundreds of active hands at work could hardly hope to have it ready before it was needed.

It was the morning of the second day of the Battle of the Wilderness. The men of Boyce's brigade knew only vaguely, by hearsay, of what had happened on that terrible yesterday. They themselves, forming the rear-guard of the great army, had been nearly the last to cross the Rapidan on the swinging pontoon bridge of Germania ford. They had had a night's forced march; a two hours' nap in the open starlight; a hasty bite of rations at half-past three in the morning, and now this plunge in the chilly twilight of sunrise down into the unknown.

There had been, just before the general advance across the Rapidan, a wholesale shaking-up of army organization. Two whole corps had been abolished, and their strength distributed among the three remaining corps. Regiments found themselves suddenly torn from their old associates, and brigaded with strangers. Their pet officers disappeared, and others took their places whom the men did not know and were disposed to dislike.

To add to this discontent, there was an understanding that their leaders had been entrapped into this Wilderness fighting. Certainly it was no place which an invading army would have chosen for battle.

It was a vast, sprawling forest district, densely covered with low timber, scrub-oak, dwarf junipers, and tangled cedars and pines, all knit together breast-high and upward with interlacing wild vines, and foul underfoot with swamp or thicket.

In this gloomy and sinister wilderness men did not know where they were, nor whom they were fighting. Whole commands were lost in the impenetrable woods. Mounted orderlies could not get about through the underbrush, and orders sent out were never delivered.

Though gulches and steep ravines abounded, cutting sharp gashes through the forest, there were no hills upon which a general and his keen-eyed staff might perch themselves and get an idea of how the land about them lay. The Confederates had plenty of this local knowledge, and used it to terrible purpose. The invaders could only put their heads down, and strive to crush their way blindly through.

After a little, the drummer-boy put his snare-drum in the wagon where the other instruments were, and started off up the ridge, to see what the general and his staff had been observing earlier in the morning.

As he neared the summit, he noticed that the roar of the cannon directly in front seemed to have died down a good deal. There were still angry outbursts, but one had to wait for them now; and a new kind of noise, made up of peal after peal of crackling musketry fire, was rising from the gully farther to the left.

The boy had come now to the top of the ridge, only to find it crowned with a thick fringe of alders which completely shut out his view. From the roots of the farther bushes the hillside dropped precipitously. He worked his way along until, by a cleft in the rocks, an opening offered itself.

Here, stooping low and bending aside the alders, he could creep out upon a big, flat, moss-grown boulder, which overhung the ravine like a balcony. He had not thought he was so high up. The other side of the gulf spread out before him could not be seen for the smoke—but the tops of tall pines growing on its bottom were far below him.

The steepness of the descent made him dizzy. The rock on which he stood seemed to be suspended in mid-air. He drew back a little. Then curiosity got the upper hand. He laid himself face down on the boulder, and edged cautiously forward till he could peer over its front.

The fog-like smoke was so dense that at first he could see nothing. Even when the bearings of the land below, masked as it all was under forest, began to be apparent to him, his ears were still the best guide to what was going on. The confused sound of men's shouts and yells mingled now with the intermittent volleys of musketry to the left. The cannon-firing had stopped altogether.

He discovered all at once that a good many of the tree-tops in front of him seemed to have been broken off very recently. Some were hanging to the trunks by their bark; everywhere the splinters were white and fresh. Now that he listened more intently, there were weird whistling noises among these shattered boughs and an incessant dropping of leaves and twigs.

Suddenly a big branch not far away shook violently, then toppled downward. At the same moment a swift ringing buzz sounded just over his head, and a bunch of alder-blossoms fell upon one of his hands. He pulled himself back abruptly.

Crawling backward out through the alders, he did not venture to lift his head until there was a comfortable wall of rocks between him and that murderous ravine. Then, getting to his feet, he looked amazed down upon the brigade camp, which he had left an hour before. The big tent, and the little ones about it, only a while ago the scene of such bustling activity, were all deserted.

Some of the wagons could be seen rolling and bumping off toward the road to the left under drivers who stood up to lash their teams. The white, canvas-hooped tops were the centres of wild confusion.

Other drivers were scurrying off on horseback, leading with them in a frantic gallop groups of the team horses, pulled along by their bunched reins. The people on foot—doctors, nurses, camp-guards and the rest—were all racing pell-mell toward the road for dear life.

Thunderstruck at the spectacle, the boy turned to the right. A long, double line of men had come out through the woods in which the ridge lost itself, and were advancing upon the camp at a sharp run. They seemed dressed in a sort of mud-colored uniform, and they raised a sharp whoop of triumph as they came. At the farther end of the line, some of these men lifted their guns as they ran, and fired into the receding mass of fugitives.

Down in front, meantime, the foremost of the advancing line had reached the camp and entered upon possession. They had begun overhauling the captured wagons, and were tossing out loaves of bread and hardtack boxes, which their comrades fell upon eagerly. The boy reflected now that he himself was hungry, and he scratched his head with perplexity.

The sound of panting breath close beside him made him turn swiftly. A man had clambered up the side of the ridge, away from the camp, and had rushed up to him, his eyes starting from his head with excitement. He waved something like a short stick, with wild gestures, and tried to shout, but could only pant instead.

He stopped as he came up, stared at the boy, then shook his head dolefully as he gasped for breath.

"Is dot you, Lafe?" he managed to groan. "Oh, my jiminy priest!"

"Look out!" cried the boy. "Lie down!"

Some of the men below had caught sight of them, and two or three sparks and jets of smoke told that they were being fired at. Though they were probably beyond range, it was safer behind the alders, so the two crawled out on the overhanging ledge.

"I say, Foldeen, have they scooped the old band wagon? I couldn't see from here," was the boys first remark.

"Dey von't get 'em my flute, anyhow," the other responded, holding proudly forth the ebony stock with its silver keys, which he had been waving so vehemently. "I don't catch me putting him in de bant vagon."

Even as he spoke he clutched the boy fiercely by the arm, with a smothered exclamation of horror. The rock on which they crouched had stirred from its foundations, and as the two instinctively strove to turn themselves, it lurched outward, and went crashing down the steep declivity.

  CHAPTER II.

LAFE RECONNOITRES THE VALLEY.

On the river road below the tannery, away back in New York State, there stood for many years a small house, always surrounded in summer by sunflowers and hollyhocks and peonies that enwrapped it as in a beautiful garment. It seemed that flowers grew nowhere else as they did for the Widow Hornbeck.

There was no other such show of lilacs in Juno Mills as that which early May brought for her front yard. The climbing roses which covered the whole front and side of the poor little house were only of the simple, old sorts,—the Baltimore Belle, the yellow Scotch and the ordinary pink brier,—but they bore thick clusters of delightful blossoms. And in the fall, when the frosts had nipped and blackened other people's flowers, the asters and nasturtiums and gladiolus in this wee patch appeared unhurt by the weather.

When there was to be a wedding in the village, or some celebration at the church or the school-house, the children always went to the Widow Hornbeck to beg for flowers. Often they found her sitting out in her yard among the plants she loved—a mild-faced, patient little woman, with thin, bent shoulders and hair whitened before its time; and she would be poring through her spectacles over the same big Book spread open on her knees.

The spectacle of Mrs. Hornbeck and her family Bible, framed like a picture in vines and flowering shrubs, grew pleasantly familiar to everybody in the district. Strangers driving past used to stop their buggies and admire the place; and they, too, seeing the white-haired owner sitting there, would feel that her presence added to the charm of the scene.

The widow died suddenly one day in the autumn of 1863. She was found quite lifeless, seated as of old in the garden, with the old patient, wistful half-smile on her face, and the old Book spread open in her lap.

The village was sad for a day or two, and gently touched for a fortnight. Then the widow had been forgotten, and the family Bible had vanished. The cottage was taken for the mortgage upon it, and its meagre contents went the way of humble, ownerless things. Mrs. Hornbeck had been very poor, and nothing was left for her son.

In that family Bible had been written the names of some score of Hornbecks. Against all these names but two a date of death had also been inscribed. One of these two names, the last in the list, was that of the boy, now made an orphan, the Benjamin of the widow's flock. He was described on the yellowed page, in his mother's scrawling hand, as "Washington Lafayette Hornbeck, born April 30, 1850." In real life he had always been known as "Lafe."

He grew up a brown-skinned, hardy sort of ordinary boy, whose face might suggest some acuteness and more resolution, but whom nobody thought of calling good-looking.

He turned out to be the best wrestler among the village lads of his age, and he was also the strongest swimmer of all the lot who used to go down, of a summer evening, to dive off the spring-board into the deep pool below the mill-dam. This raised him a good deal in the esteem of the boys, but somehow their elders were not so much impressed by "Lafe's" qualities.

He had to work, and he did work, but always at some new job—now berry-picking, now stripping willows for the basket factory, now packing "heave-powders" for the local horse-doctor. He had been employed in the mills and in the tannery, and he had once travelled for a month as the assistant of a tin-peddler, not to mention various experiments in general farm-work.

People hardly blamed Lafe for this lack of steadiness in employment. They said it was in his blood. All the Hornbecks since any one could remember had been musicians—playing the fiddle or whatever else you liked at country dances, and some of them even journeying to distant parts as members of circus or minstrel bands.

It was felt that a boy from such a roving stock could scarcely be expected to tie himself down to regular work.

Doubtless Lafe felt this, too, for as soon as he began thinking what he should do, after the shock of his mother's death, he found himself wishing to be a drummer-boy. The notion struck all the neighbors as quite appropriate. Lafe was a capital drummer. Kind old Doctor Peabody went with him to Tecumseh, saw the head recruiting officer at the big barracks there, and arranged matters for him.

Lafe was sent forward to New York, and thence to headquarters at the front. Men liked him, and his lifelong familiarity with instruments made him a handy boy to have about. Before long he was taken out of the little company drum-corps, and promoted to the big brigade band.

This very morning, when he went up from the hospital camp to the ridge where he hoped to see the fighting beyond, he had been thinking whether this promotion had been what he wanted.

All his dreams had been of action—of brave drummer-boys who went into battle with the fifes, and stood through it all by the side of the file-leader, valiantly pounding their sheep-skins as the shot and shell screamed past, and men pitched headlong, and officers were hurled from their horses, and the fight was lost or won.

Alas! a brigade band never got so much as a whiff of actual warfare, but tamely stayed about in camp, playing selections outside the general's headquarters while he ate his dinner, or contributing its quota to the ceremonial of a Sunday dress-parade.

Perhaps nothing more was to be looked for during the long winter in peaceful quarters at Brandy Station; but now that spring had come, and the grand advance was begun, and battles were in the air all about them—even now the bandsmen merely gave the warriors a tune or two to start them off, and then ingloriously loafed around the camp till they returned, or did not return, as the case might be. One might almost as well have stayed at home in Juno Mills!

The great rock on which Lafe and the German flute-player Foldeen had taken their station gave way beneath them, as was stated in the last chapter, and smashed its way down the steep hillside, crushing the brush and rooting up vines as it went, snapping saplings like pipestems, and bowling over even trees of a larger growth. It brought up almost at the bottom of the hill, in the heart of a clump of sturdy cedars.

A long gash of earth laid bare and of foliage ripped and strewn aside stretched up the incline to mark the track of the fallen boulder. Half-way up this pathway of devastation a boy presently appeared.

Lafe had crawled up out of the débris of saplings, boughs, and tangled creepers into which he had been hurled, and clambered over now to the open space. Then he stood looking up and down in a puzzled way, rubbing his head. His clothes were torn a good deal, he had lost his cap, and he was conscious of numerous bruises under these damaged clothes of his.

There was blood on the palm of his hand, which had come from his head. So far as feeling could guide him, this, however, was nothing but a scalp scratch. He cared more about the tremendous bark one of his shins had got, close up under his knee. When he took his first aimless steps, this had already stiffened, and was hurting him.

Suddenly he remembered that he had not been alone on the rock. Foldeen Schell had been with him, and had grabbed his arm just as everything gave way under them. His wits were still woolgathering under the combined scare and tumble, and he began mechanically poking about among the underbrush at his feet, as if the missing flute-player might be hidden there. Or was he hunting for his cap? For a dazed minute or two he hardly knew.

Then the sense of bewilderment lifted itself, and was gone. Lafe straightened himself, and looked comprehensively about him.

"Foldeen!" he shouted shrilly, and then bent all his powers of hearing for a reply. There came no answering call.

The air was full of other sounds—the rattling echoes of musketry-firing and the boom of bigger guns, some far off, others seemingly near, all mingling here among the thicket recesses in a subdued, continuous clamor. Perhaps shouting was of no use.

Lafe climbed up the hill a dozen yards or so, to a point where he could go no farther, and scrutinized his surroundings carefully. The impenetrable wall of foliage shut out the valley from him even more completely than when he was on the ridge. He called again and again, and explored the bushes on either side, to no purpose.

Limping slowly down the track cleared by the passing rock, he continued his search to the right and left. He knew so little of how he himself had escaped death that there was nothing to help him guess how it had fared with his companion.

He had not known much about this missing bandsman heretofore, save that he seemed to be the best fellow among the three or four German musicians which the band contained. The boy, like the rest, spoke and thought of all these alien comrades as "Dutchmen," and he was far from comprehending that that outlandish name "Foldeen" was only a corruption of "Valentine." But a common misfortune binds swift ties, and Lafe, as he kept up his quest, began to think of Schell quite affectionately.

He recalled how good-tempered he had always been; how he alone had made jokes on the long march, when the cold and driving rain had soured every one else, and empty stomachs grumbled to keep company with aching bones.

Reflecting upon this, Lafe realized that he was very fond of the "Dutchman," and would be in despair if he had come to grief.

"Foldeen!" he yelled out again.

"Sh! sh! geeb guiet!" came a guttural reply, from somewhere near by.

The boy's heart lightened on the instant. He looked hastily about him with a cheerful eye, trying to trace the direction of the voice. "Where are you?" he demanded, in a lower tone.

For answer, the blue-coated German rose from a cover of brush, away down the hill, and beckoned him, enforcing at the same time by emphatic gestures the importance of coming noiselessly.

Lafe stole down furtively, and in a minute was bending close beside Foldeen in shrubby shelter.

"Get hurt any?" Lafe asked, subduing his voice almost to a whisper in deference to the other's visible anxiety.

Foldeen shook his head. "It is much worse," he murmured back. "I have my flute lost."

The boy could not but smile. "We can thank our stars we weren't both smashed to atoms," he observed.

"Sh-h! don't talk!" Foldeen adjured him, and indicated with a sidewise nod of the head that special reasons for silence lay in that direction.

Lafe edged himself forward, and looked out through the bushes. They were on the crest of a little mound which jutted out slightly from the descending face of the hillside. The bottom of the ravine lay only thirty feet or so below them.

Save for scattered clumps of dwarf firs, hardly higher than the mullein stalks about them, the ground was clear, and the short grass told Lafe's practised eye that it was pasture land. Beyond, there was the gravelled bed of a stream, along which a small rivulet wandered from side to side.

At the first glance his eye had taken in various splashes of color dotting the grass, which suggested bluebells. He saw now that these were made by the uniforms of men, who lay sprawled in various unnatural postures, flat on the green earth. Most of them were on their faces, and not one of them stirred. Lafe moved his head about among the screening bushes, and was able to count twenty-six of these motionless figures.

The boy had seen such sights before, and had even helped bring in the wounded from the field of Payne's Farm during the most of a long, cold night in the previous November. This experience guided him now to remark a curious thing. No muskets, knapsacks, or canteens were scattered about beside these fallen men. And another odd detail—they were all barefooted.

"Some one's been along, after the fighting was over, and skinned everything clean," he muttered to his companion.

Foldeen nodded again, and once more held up a warning hand. He himself was intently watching something beneath, from his side of the leafy cover. The boy shifted his position, and craning his neck over the other's shoulder, saw that just below them, where the ascent began, there stretched a rough, newly made ridge of sods, fence rails and tree-tops, which had evidently been used as a breastwork.

Behind this there were other human forms, also lying prone, but clad in gray or butternut instead of blue. Here, too, there was no sign of life, but only that fixed absence of motion to which the remote thunder of gun-fire gave such a bitter meaning.

"Anybody there?" whispered the boy.

"I dink so," returned Foldeen, under his breath. "Dere is some, what you call it, hanky-banky, goes on here. Look yourself!"

He moved aside, and Lafe crowded into his place, and put his head out cautiously through the bushes. In one corner of the breastwork there was to be seen a big pile of accoutrements—knapsacks, muskets, swords, water-bottles, and the like, as well as a heap of old boots and miscellaneous foot-gear.

"Vell, how you make it out?" asked Foldeen.

Lafe drew in his head. "The way I figure it," he whispered, "is first, that they held this place against our men, and drove 'em off. Then they went out, and gathered up these traps, and brought 'em in there. Then some more of our men came along, and chased them out. That's what it looks like."

"Well, den, vare is gone dem second men of ours?" the German demanded.

"They've gone after 'em, up the valley, there."

Foldeen shook his head. "Dey don't do such foolishness," he objected. "Ven dey take some place like dis, den dey shtick to him. I know so much, if I do blay mid the band."

"There'd be rations in the knapsacks," mused Lafe, after a pause. He had never been so hungry before in his life.

"What do you say to sneaking down there, and trying to find something to eat?" he suggested. "Come on!" he added persuasively. "There's nobody down there that—nobody that we need be afraid of."

"Vell, I am afraid, dot's all," responded Foldeen.

"They can't do more than make us prisoners," urged the boy, "and that's better than starving to death. Come on! I'm going to make a try."

The German took his companion by the arm. "See here," he explained; "ven dey catch you, dot's all right. You are prisoner; dot's all. Ven dey catch me, den it goes one, two, dree—bang, und den Foldeen Schell addends his own funeral. Dot's the difference by you und me."

"Nonsense!" said Lafe. "They don't shoot anybody in the band."

"Anyhow, dey shoot me out of de band," persisted Foldeen, gloomily. "I was in dot oder army myself, sometimes."

The boy drew a long breath of enlightened surprise, which was almost a whistle.

"Well, then, you stay here," he said, after a little, "and I'll take a look at the thing by myself."

Suiting the action to the word, Lafe laid hold of the stoutest saplings, and lowered himself down by his arms to the ledge below. The footing was not quite easy; but by hanging to the vines he managed to work his way obliquely across the face of the declivity, and yet keep pretty well under cover of the bushes.

Suddenly, emerging from the thicket, he found himself quite inside the breastwork, which he had entered from the open rear. The more terrible signs of the conflict which had been waged here a few hours before forced themselves upon his attention, first of all.

He braced himself to walk past them, and to go straight to the heap of knapsacks piled up among the branches in the corner.

Lifting one of the haversacks, he opened it. There was a tin cup on top, and some woollen things which might be socks. Pushing his hand under these, he came upon some bread, and paused to express his content by a smile.

"Drop it—you!"

A loud, peremptory voice close at his shoulder caused the boy to turn with alarmed abruptness. A burly man, with a rough, sandy stubble of beard about his face, had come into the breastwork—or perhaps had been hidden there all the while.

Lafe's first impulse was one of satisfaction at noting that the stranger wore the blue Union uniform.

Then he looked into the man's face, and the instinct of pleasure died suddenly away.

  CHAPTER III.

THE BOUNTY-JUMPER.

When Lafe Hornbeck looked into the countenance of the strange man who appeared thus unexpectedly before him in the deserted breastwork, it needed no second glance to tell him that he had to deal with a scoundrel. A threatening and formidable scoundrel he seemed, too, with his heavy, slouching shoulders, his long arms ending in huge, hairy hands, and the surly scowl on his low-browed, frowzy face.

He wore the dark-blue jacket and light-blue trousers of the Federal infantry, and their relative newness showed that he was a fresh recruit. His badge was the Maltese cross of the Fifth Corps, and its color, red, indicated the First Division. This was the corps and division of Boyce's brigade.

Even in the first minute of surprised scrutiny of the fellow Lafe found himself thinking that he probably belonged to that Ohio regiment which he had seen bringing up the rear of the line forming for battle.

"Drop it, I say!" the man repeated, harshly.

Lafe drew his hand from the haversack slowly and reluctantly.

"There's enough more of 'em here," he protested, nodding at the pile in the corner of the earthwork. "I haven't had a mouthful since before sunrise, and I'm hungry."

"Where'd you come from, anyway, and what business have you got here?" the other demanded, with an oath and a forward step.

"I'm Fifth Corps, same as you are," replied Lafe, making an effort to keep his voice bold and firm, "and I came here by tumbling head over heels down that hill there, right spang from top to bottom." He took courage from the indecision apparent in the man's eyes to add, "And that's why I'm going to have something to eat."

The stranger gave a grunt, which, bad-tempered though it was, did not seem to forbid the action, and Lafe drew forth the bread again. It was dry and tasteless enough, but he almost forgot to look at his unwelcome companion in the satisfaction which he had in gulping down the food.

The man lounged over to the pile of haversacks, muskets, and clothing, and seemed to be trying to make out whether anything was missing. He grunted again, and turned to Lafe just as the last crust was disappearing.

"You're a drummer, ain't you?" he said roughly. "Where do you belong?"

Lafe held up his hand to signify that his mouth was too full to talk. "Boyce's brigade," he explained, after a little.

"That ain't what I asked. What's your regiment?"

"Haven't got any regiment," replied Lafe. "I'm in the brigade band."

"Oh!" growled the man, and turned on his heel. The information seemed to relieve his mind, for when he had taken a few loitering steps about the enclosure, and confronted Lafe again, his tone was less quarrelsome. "Left the hospital camp up there, eh?" he asked, with a sidelong nod of his head toward the top of the hill.

"Well, yes—and no," responded the boy. "It was there when I left it, but it ain't there now. Or rather, it is there, but we ain't there."

"What are you driving at?" the man demanded, once more in a rougher voice.

"The rebs have gobbled it," said Lafe. "Our folks were skedaddling and the rebs were coming in the last I saw."

The man gave a low whistle of surprise and interest. He began walking about again, bending his ugly brows in thought meanwhile. From time to time he paused to ask other questions, as to which way the people of the brigade camp had fled, how large was the force which had captured the camp, and the like.

The news evidently impressed him a good deal. Lafe got the idea that somehow it changed his plans. What were these plans? the boy wondered. The whole thing was very hard to make out. More than once he had had it in mind to say that he had left another member of the band, a very nice fellow indeed, up on the side-hill above them, who must also be hungry, and to suggest that he should call him down.

But every time, when this rose to his tongue, a glance at the evil face of the man restrained him. He could not but remember what Foldeen had hinted, that there was some "deviltry" going on down below here. What was it?

"There must have been some pretty tough fighting right here," he ventured to remark, after a while.

"You bet there was!" the other assented. He seemed not averse to a little talk, though his mind was still on other things.

"I don't quite figure it out," the boy went on, cautiously. "Of course, wrastling round in the woods like this, you can't make head nor tail of how things go, or who's on top, or where—but how does it stand—right here, I mean? We're in our own lines here, ain't we?"

The stranger fixed a long, inquiring glance upon the boy's face. Lafe returned the gaze with all the calmness he could muster. He could not help feeling that there was a good deal of stupidity in the stare under which he bore up. The man was not quick-minded; that was clear enough. But it was also plain that he was both a stubborn and a brutal creature.

"Yes," he growled, after he had stared Lafe out of countenance, "yes, these are our own lines."

The phrase seemed to tickle his fancy, for something like the beginning of a grin stirred on the stubbly surface about his mouth. "Yes—our own lines," he repeated. How strange it was! All at once, like a flash, Lafe remembered having seen this man before. That slow, sulky wavering of a grimace on his lips betrayed him. Swiftly pursuing the clue, the boy reconstructed in his mind a scene in which this man had played the chief part.

It must have been in the early part of the previous December—just after the army went into winter quarters behind the line of the Orange railroad, cooped up in its earth-huts all the way from Culpeper Court House to Brandy Station. Lafe had gone over on leave one afternoon to the corps headquarters—it must have been of a Thursday, because there was to be a military execution the next day, and these were always fixed for Friday.

The army was then receiving almost weekly large batches of raw recruits, sent from the big cities, some the product of the draft, others forwarded by the enlistment bureaus. Among these new-comers were many good citizens and patriots; but there were also a great many cowards and a considerable number of scoundrels who made a business of enlisting to get the bounty, deserting as soon as they could, and enlisting again from some other point.

To prevent wholesale desertions, both of the cowards and the "bounty-jumpers," the utmost vigilance was needed. Their best chance to run away was offered by picket duty, when they found themselves posted out in comparative solitude, in the dark, on the very outskirts of the army line.

To checkmate this, a cordon of cavalry had to be drawn still farther out than the pickets—cavalry-men who slept all day, and at night patrolled the uttermost confines of the great camp, watching with all their eyes and ears, ready on the instant to clap spurs and ride down any skulking wretch who could be discovered attempting his escape.

Even in the teeth of this precaution, the attempts were continually made, and it was the rarest event for a Friday to pass without the spectacle of summary punishment being meted out to some captured deserter on the corps' shooting-ground. Often there were more than one of these victims to martial law.

Lafe now remembered how, with a boy's curiosity, he had prowled about the provost marshal's guard quarters, fascinated by the idea that inside the log shanty, where the two sentinels with fixed bayonets walked constantly up and down, there were men condemned to be shot at six the following morning.

Standing around, and gossiping amiably with these sentinels, who shared the common feeling of the army in making pets of the drummer-boys, he had managed at last to get a glimpse at one of these fated prisoners.

A face had appeared at the little window, square-cut in the logs. It was a bad, unkempt face, with a reddish stubble of beard on jaws and cheek. There may have been some rough jest passed by the other prisoners inside the hut, for as the boy watched this face, a grim, mean sort of smile flickered momentarily over it.

Then the face itself disappeared, and left the boy marvelling that a man could grin in presence of the fact that he was to be shot on the morrow.

The smile, and the countenance it played upon for that instant of time, burned themselves into his memory. Lafe racked his brain now for some recollection of having heard that these particular prisoners were reprieved, or had succeeded in escaping from their log jail. His memory was a blank on the subject. Yet he felt sure that the face he had seen at that window was the identical face he now saw before him.

For the life of him, he could not resist the temptation to venture upon this dangerous topic.

"You're one of the new regiments brought over to us from the old First Corps, ain't you?" he asked, with an effort at an ingratiating tone.

The man nodded his head in indifferent assent. He seemed to be listening intently to the sounds of battle in the air. These were reduced now to faint, far-away cracklings of rifle-firing, as if only distant sharpshooters were engaged.

"Suppose this is about the first time you've been under fire, then," Lafe remarked. He added, with a bragging air: "I was all through the Payne's Farm and Mine Run racket last November! That was hot enough, I tell you!"

The man made that inarticulate grunt of contempt which we try to convey by the word humph! "So was I," he growled, "and plenty more fights worse than them."

"Oh, got your discharge and 'listed again?" commented the boy.

Again the stranger turned upon him that steady, dull stare of inquiry—like the gaze of a vicious ox. He seemed satisfied at length with the artlessness of Lafe's countenance, but did not trouble himself to answer his suggestion.

"What do you figure on doin' with yourself?" he abruptly asked the boy, after a pause.

"How do I know?" retorted Lafe. "I'd try and join brigade headquarters, if I knew where they were, but I don't. The next best thing is to try and find some other brigade's headquarters. It's all clear enough outside here now. I guess I'll take some bread with me, and make a break through the woods down the run there. I'll fetch up somewhere, all right."

He bent over the pile of knapsacks, as if to pick one of them up.

"No," the man called out. "Leave 'em alone! You can't take no more of them rations, and you can't go down the run. You can't go anywhere."

Lafe straightened himself. "Why not?" he asked, with an assumption of boldness.

"Because you can't," the other retorted curtly.

"What can I do, then?" Lafe inquired defiantly.

The man looked him over. "You can turn up your toes to the daisies in about another minute, if you don't mind your own business. That's what you can do," he remarked, with an ugly frown.

"What's the use of talking that way?" said Lafe. "I haven't done you any harm, have I?"

"No—and you ain't going to, either," was the reply.

The stranger, as he spoke, took a two-barrelled pistol from his inside jacket-pocket. It was a beautiful weapon, ornamented with a good deal of chased silver. Lafe had seen pistols like this before, in the possession of officers, and knew that they were called Derringers. Private soldiers were not likely to carry weapons of that sort.

He was sure that this man must have stolen the pistol, and the conviction did not assist Lafe to calmness, as he observed the man push one of the hammers back with his thumb to full-cock. It is as bad to be shot by stolen firearms as by those which have been bought and paid for.

The stranger drew from another pocket a gold watch, with a long loop of broad black silk braid hanging from its ring. He held it in the palm of his free hand, and glanced at its open face.

"It must be getting along toward noon," Lafe had the temerity to remark. There were cold shivers through his veins, but he managed to keep his tongue steady. If "cheek" could not help him, nothing could.

"About as nigh noon as you're ever likely to git," said the other, making a pretence of again consulting the watch.

Instinct told the lad with a flashlight swiftness that this looking at the watch was buncombe. Men who really meant to kill did not parade timepieces like that.

"I haven't got anything on me that would be of any use to you," he said, with an immense effort at unconcern. "Even if I had, you wouldn't need a gun to take it away from me."

"You've got a mouth on you," said the man, eying him, "and it'll be of use to me to shut it up."

He lifted the pistol as he spoke, and Lafe instinctively closed his eyes, with a confused rush of thoughts in which he seemed to see his old mother sitting in the garden with the Book on her knees, and also the young Ohio officer, who somehow came in among the tall flowers beside her, and these flowers themselves were the regimental flags which the color-sergeant was unfurling.

Then, as nothing happened, the boy opened his eyes again, and found himself able to look into the two black disks of the Derringer's muzzle without flinching.

He could even look beyond the muzzle, as the barrels sloped downward toward him, and he now saw distinctly that the two little upright steel nipples bore no caps. The discovery made him annoyed at his own cowardice. It was easier now to be bold.

"What's your idea, anyway?" he asked the man, with an added effrontery in his tone. "If you'd been going to shoot, you'd have done it long ago. This thing doesn't scare me at all, and I don't see how it does you any good. What are you getting at, anyhow?"

"I'd as soon shoot you as look at you!" the other declared with angry emphasis, but lowering the weapon.

"Yes, but seeing you ain't going to shoot, what are you going to do?" Lafe put in.

The ruffian eyed him again. "If I agree not to hurt you, will you do what I tell you?" he demanded.

"Well, maybe I will," replied the boy. His spirits rose as his contempt for this slow and shilly-shallying sort of scoundrel increased. "What is it you want me to do?"

"I want you to help me carry some things I've got together over there, on the other side of the creek. Well go over now, and bring 'em back here."

"I'll take another bite of bread, first," it occurred to the boy to say. He lifted a haversack, and shoved in one hand to burrow among its contents, while with his foot, as if by accident, he pushed one of the muskets lengthwise so that he might grab it the more readily if occasion required.

Biting in leisurely fashion on the new crust he had found, Lafe felt emboldened to make the conversation personal.

"That's a mighty fine watch you've got there," he remarked, affably. "I suppose it went with the pistol—sort o' thrown in, like."

The man put the watch back into his trousers pocket. He seemed for a moment disposed to annoyance. Then the furtive, mean grin curled over the lower part of his face. "Yes—it was thrown in," he replied, almost with a chuckle. "Come on," he added. "You can chew that bread as you go along."

"But what am I to get?" the boy queried, slowly turning the crust over to select a place for the next bite. "Do I come in for any watches and silver-mounted Derringers, too?"

"You jest help me for all you're worth," replied the man, after a moment's pause, "and I'll see to it you git something worth your while."

"It's got to be something pretty good," said Lafe, meditatively chewing on the hard bread. "A fellow can't be expected to risk the chance of being shot for nothing."

"There ain't no danger of gittin' shot," the other replied.

"Well, hung, then," Lafe said impudently.

"What's that you say?" the man growled, with reawakened suspicion. "Who said anything about hangin'? What kind o' nonsense are you talkin', anyway?"

It might be a desperately foolish thing to do, but Lafe could not hold himself from doing it—and for that matter didn't try.

"Why, they hang men caught robbing the dead on battle-fields, don't they—specially when they're bounty-jumpers to begin with?"

He had called this out as swiftly as he could, holding himself in readiness as he spoke, and now he pounced downward, and clutching the musket, lifted it for defence.

The man sprang forward with a quicker motion than the boy had counted upon, and before Lafe had got erect he felt the stifling grasp of big, hard fingers around his throat.

  CHAPTER IV.

RED PETE IN CAPTIVITY.

Things grew black before Lafe's eyes as the iron clutch about his throat tightened. He strove desperately to twist himself loose, using in a frantic way the wrestling tricks he knew; but the grip of the bounty-jumper was too powerful. Lafe's head seemed swelling in the effort to burst, and feeling in all his body below that fatal circlet became numb. There was room for but a single thought—this was what being choked to death meant!

Afterward it never seemed to the boy that he entirely lost consciousness. He could remember that there was a violent sidewise jerk at his neck, and then the sense of intolerable squeezing there ceased. But there was still an awful buzzing inside his head, and midnight blackness, shot with interlacing lines of crazy light, spread itself indefinitely about him.

Gradually he perceived that he was breathing again, and that he could feel his arms and legs once more to be parts of him. He knew that he was exceedingly tired and sleepy, and felt only that the one desirable thing was to lie still, just as he was. He mentally resolved that he would not stir nor open his eyes for anybody.

"How vas it mit you, Lafe?"

The words were undoubtedly in the air. He realized that, and lay very still, lazily confident that he would hear them again.

Things began to assort themselves in his brain. Foldeen and he had been on a big, overhanging rock, which had tumbled with them, and by some chance they hadn't both been killed, and now Foldeen was looking for him. But he would lie still and rest.

"Vake up! Lafe! Vake up!"

The boy heard these words, too. The heavy drowsiness upon him seemed to be lifting, and he felt some one fumbling at his breast, inside his shirt. On the instant he was awake and sitting up, wonderingly staring.

A tall figure had risen away from him as he opened his eyes. The sun had come out, and was falling warm and full upon the mass of young green which covered the hillside. This erect standing figure was for a moment or two very indistinct against the dazzling light. Then Lafe made out that this was Foldeen.

Almost in the same glance he saw that he was sitting among the heap of knapsacks and battle-field débris in the corner of the breastwork. Close beside him—so near that he felt he must have been lying upon him when he recovered consciousness—sprawled the burly figure of the bounty-jumper, face downward, and quite still.

Lafe was so contented with the spectacle on which his eyes rested that it did not occur to him to ask what had happened.

It was pleasanter to look at Foldeen's honest face, beaming satisfaction back into the boy's slow and inquiring regard. The German said nothing, but just smiled at Lafe.

As the boy's memory cleared itself, the fact that Foldeen had had no breakfast, and that he had left him in his covert on the hillside with very little compunction, rose above everything else.

Lafe pointed to the knapsacks, and attempted to speak. His throat and windpipe, the roots of his tongue and everything else involved in vocal sounds, seemed at the effort to shrivel up in pain. At first he thought he could not manage to utter a syllable. Then, at the cost of some suffering, he forced out the words, "Bread—there." They sounded quite strange in his ears.

Foldeen nodded his head, still with the jubilant grin on his round, kindly face. "Ya vole," he said, in a matter-of-fact way. "But first I fix me up dis fellow dight."

He sorted out of the pile of stolen property two officers' sashes of knitted crimson silk, and kneeling down beside the outstretched form of the bounty-jumper, proceeded calmly to bind his legs together at the ankles with one of them.

Then, with some roughness, he dragged the prostrate man's arms together till their wrists met on the small of his back, and there tied them securely.

"He ain't dead, then?" commented Lafe, his throat feeling easier.

"Vell, maybe he is," said Foldeen. "I hit him shtraight by the top of his head mit dot gun-barrel, und he vent down like if he vas a tousand bricks. But it makes nodding. Ven he is dead, den he is good tied up. Ven he is alife, den he is much better tied up. Now ve eat us our breakfast in kviet. Bread, you say? Show me dot bread."

Foldeen needed no showing, but was on the instant wolfing huge mouthfuls from the half-loaf which the nearest haversack furnished. Lafe leaned back and watched him, his mind filled with formless emotions of thanksgiving.

In such intervals as he could spare from the bread, Foldeen lightly told what had happened. From his perch up on the hillside he had seen everything, and though beyond earshot, had been able to follow pretty well what was going on.

When the rascal drew the pistol, Foldeen slipped out from his hiding-place, and began letting himself noiselessly down the hill. He had entered the breastwork just at the critical moment, and had dealt Lafe's assailant a crushing blow on the skull with a gun he picked up. That was all. It was very simple.

"And mighty lucky for me, too!" was the boy's heartfelt comment. "Foldeen, do you know what this fellow here's been doing?"

"I haf some brains on my head. I haf seen his business. He is a dief."

"He got these things together here," said Lafe, "and he told me there was a lot more over on the other side of the creek. He was going to make me help him bring them here. That was what he had the pistol out for. But what beats me is, what did he expect to do with them? A man can't get out of the lines with a load of traps like this, even if he could carry 'em."

For answer Foldeen rose, and turned the sprawling, inert form of his captive over on its back. The pallor of the thief's face, contrasted with the coarse, sandy hair and stubble of beard, made it seem more repellent than ever.

The German bent over to examine this countenance more carefully.

"By jiminy priest! I bet me anydings I know dot man!" he exclaimed, staring downward intently. "Vake up dere, you!" he called out, pushing the recumbent figure with his foot. "I know you, Red Pete! Dot's no use, your making out you vas asleep! Vake up, kvick now!" and he stirred him with his boot again.

"I bet he's dead," said Lafe.

No! The man half opened his eyes and moved his head restlessly. The color came back into his face, the muscles of which were drawn now into an angry scowl by pain. He fell back helpless after an instinctive effort to lift himself to a sitting posture. Then, shifting his head, he discovered the two friends, and fixed upon them a stolid, half-stupefied stare.

"How you like him, dot Red Pete, eh?" Foldeen burst forth, with exultation, never taking his jubilant glance from the face of the wretch on the ground. "Dots a beauty, ain'd it? Dot's a first-glass Ghristmas bresent, eh, to find in your shtocking! Or no, he is too big. Ve hang him on a dree, eh? A nize Ghristmas-dree, all by ourselves, eh? O Red Pete, you vas git the best place by dot dree, right in front, on the biggest branch!"

The man on the ground had been staring upward at the speaker in a puzzled fashion. He had slowly taken in the situation that he was disabled, bound hand and foot, and at the German's mercy. At last he seemed to recall who it was who was talking to him.

"I never done you no harm!" he growled.

"So-o!" ejaculated Foldeen, with loud sarcasm. "Dot vas no harm, eh, dot vas only some little fun, eh, to make me on fire und burn me up mit the rest in dot shteam-boat? Just some funny joke, eh? Veil, den, now I will haf me my funny liddle jokes mit you."

Speaking with such swift volubility that Lafe followed with difficulty the thread of his narrative, Foldeen unfolded a curious tale. Before the war he had drifted about in the South a good deal, playing in orchestras in New Orleans some of the time, and then for whole seasons travelling up and down the Mississippi in the bands of the old passenger steamers.

This man, Red Pete, was a well-known character on the river, too well known all the way from Cairo to the last levee. Sometimes he was in charge of a squad of slaves, sometimes travelling on his own account as a gambler, slave-buyer, or even for a trip as minor boat officer—but always an evil-minded scoundrel.

One night, when they were lying at the wharf under the bluff at Natchez, the cabins of the steamer had been robbed, and fire set to the boat in several places. Those on board barely escaped with their lives, and when they found that Red Pete was missing, every one knew well enough that he was the thief and would-be murderer.

Foldeen believed there had been some search for him, but those were rough times, and he was never tracked down. Then the war came, and Foldeen perforce went into the band of an Arkansas regiment—until the opportunity of making his escape to the Union lines occurred.

During that period of reluctant service with the band which played "Dixie" and "The Bonnie Blue Flag," he had more than once heard of Red Pete as a sort of unattached guerrilla, who, like many other river ruffians, played for his own hand between the lines.

"Und now it looks like dot game of his vas pretty near blayed out, eh?" Foldeen concluded with a chuckle.

Lafe gazed down with loathing upon this burly and powerful desperado, lying in such utter helplessness. He told Foldeen in turn how he had seen this very man in the Fifth Corps "quod" only last winter, condemned to death.

"So-o!" exclaimed the German. "I remember dot. All five deserters und bounty-chumpers dug deir vay out, und gilled a sentinel, und skipped in the night. So-o! Ve don't have us dot private Ghristmas-dree, after all. Ve make Red Pete a bresent to Cheneral Boyce, instead."

"Yes, but where shall we find General Boyce?" Lafe put in.

Moved by a common impulse, the two turned their backs on their prisoner, and went outside the earthwork.

The sky was overcast with shifting clouds again, and gave no hint as to the points of compass. The little valley, strewn with motionless, blue-clad figures, lay wrapped in such silence that they could hear the murmur of the rivulet beyond. On both sides the hills rose steeply, covered with thick, tangled verdure.

Behind and before them the valley lost itself a hundred yards away in dense thickets. A sharp wind had risen, under which the tree-tops moaned. Above the noises of the gathering gale, faint sounds of distant firing could be heard.

"We'd better stay where we are," the boy suggested. "There's been rough-and-tumble fighting all around here, and there's no way of figuring out where our people are. I guess they don't know themselves. If we go hunting round, we're as likely as not to walk into a hornets' nest. I tell you what we'll do. If we can find a piece of white cloth, we'll put it up on a pole out here, and we'll bury these men of ours. Nobody'll touch us, if they come along and find us doing that. Besides, it's the right thing to do."

They turned back into the breastwork, and Lafe, rummaging among the knapsacks, speedily found a roll of bandage-linen which would serve his purpose. He got out more bread as well, and found a scrap of fried bacon. The two ate standing; now that they had a plan, they were all eagerness to put it into operation.

Red Pete had closed his eyes again, and was lying perfectly still. The excitement of his capture having died away, they now scarcely gave him a glance.

"I wonder what time it's got to be," Lafe remarked, as they were finishing the last mouthful. "Oh, I forgot—he's got a gold watch in his pocket, and I think it's going."

Foldeen knelt, and feeling about for it, drew the watch from Red Pete's trousers pocket. "By jiminy priest! it's near four o'clock!" he exclaimed. Then rising, he looked more attentively at the watch, turning it over in his hand admiringly, and prying open the back of the case with his nail.

There seemed to be an inscription on the inside of the cover, and Foldeen held the watch sidewise to decipher this more readily, while Lafe peered over his shoulder to look.

"It's in writing," he said; "let me take it. I can make it out easier, perhaps."

The legend inside the gold case was delicately engraved in small running script. Lafe, reading with increasing surprise, discovered it to be this:—

Presented to
Lieut. Lyman Hornbeck,
January 22, 1864,
by his friends and admirers
Of St. Mark's Church,
Cleveland.

"Say, Foldeen," Lafe burst forth, "I bet that's a relation of mine. I've got an uncle——"

"So everybody has got some ungles," put in the musician.

"No, but look here," the boy insisted. "That says 'Lyman Hornbeck.' Well, my father's brother was Lyman Hornbeck. I've heard talk about my Uncle Lyme ever since I could remember. He left home years ago, before I was born. They always said he was out West, somewhere. I bet it's the same man. At any rate, I'm going to take a look around. You fix up the pole and the white flag outside here, and bring out the shovels. I'll be back again and help."

Lafe's eyes sparkled with a new excitement as he made his way across the pasture to the bank of the creek, noting as he strode along that all the lifeless forms on the grass wore the uniforms of privates.

He walked along the shelving edge of this bank from one end of the clearing to the other, to make sure that the winding bed of the stream below did not hold what he sought for. There was no sign, anywhere in the open, of an officer.

He remembered now that Red Pete had spoken of the other side of the creek, which lay so much lower than the bank on which he stood that it could not have been raked by the fire from the breastwork. It was swampy ground, covered heavily with high, bushing willows and rank growths of tall marsh grass. No path leading into it was discernible, perhaps because the wind blew the reeds and flags so stiffly sidewise.

With a running jump Lafe cleared the bed of the stream, and pushed his way into the morass. It was not so wet underfoot as he had expected, but the tangle of vines and undergrowth made his progress slow and troublesome. It was easy enough to see that no portion of the brigade had passed this way; there were no indications that wild nature here had ever been disturbed. The boy pressed on until, finding the swamp-jungle getting worse with every yard, and the shadows deepening about him, it was clearly useless to go farther.

Turning, he fancied he knew from which direction he had advanced into this maze. There was no use in merely retracing his steps. He settled his bearings as well as might be, and struck off to the left, to work his way diagonally out to the clearing.

When he had floundered on over what seemed twice the distance of his first direct line, and halted, hot, tired, and out of breath, he could detect no open space ahead. The wind was blowing hard from up above, and the noise of its impact upon the wilderness was in itself enough to confuse the senses. It was undoubtedly growing dark.

"Hello—Hornbeck!" Lafe shouted.

The wind seized the shrill cry and scattered it into fragmentary echoes. It was worse than useless to call out. He must push doggedly on. Lafe turned a little to the right, and crushed his way forward through the brush and bracken, with a step to which dawning fears of being lost lent added vigor.

He was traversing slightly higher ground now. The willows and marsh grass had given place to a more orderly second growth of firs, with dry moss underfoot, and open spaces overhead. In one of these breathing-places of the thicket, he came suddenly upon the blue-clad figure of a man sitting propped up against a stump, his head hanging on his breast.

He was young and fair-haired, and Lafe's glance took in the glint of gilt straps on his shoulders as he hurried toward him. Almost in the same instant the boy, kneeling at his side, saw that this was the young Ohio officer he had spoken with at sunrise, and that he was alive.

As he sought to waken the wounded man, and make out how badly he had been hurt, it grew suddenly, strangely dark. Looking upward, Lafe saw above the treetops nearest him, piling skyward on the wind, a great writhing wall of black smoke.

It mounted in huge, waving coils as he looked, and came nearer, bending forward in a sinister arch across the heavens. His startled ears dimly heard a sullen, roaring sound, newly engrafted upon the whistling of the wind.

The woods were on fire!

  CHAPTER V.

LAFE RESCUES AN OFFICER, AND FINDS HIS COUSIN.

Lafe had seen forest fires near Juno Mills, and there was nothing in his recollection of them to suggest great danger in this one. He was more interested for the moment in the young Ohio officer propped against the stump. This lieutenant was barefooted. A thief had evidently taken also his sash, sword, and belt.

He was probably one of Red Pete's victims. The others could not be far away, among them Lafe's problematical kinsman with the presentation watch.

But finding a possible uncle was just now of less importance than finding a safe way out of the thicket. The smoke grew visibly thicker, and Lafe could detect, off to the left, the distinct crackling noise of flames. He dropped on one knee again, and patted the officer's shoulder with decision.

The young man moved his head restlessly, then opened his eyes and stared dully at Lafe.

"Which way is the creek?" the drummer-boy shouted.

The lieutenant, as if dazed, looked half wonderingly into the boy's face. Then he blinked, shook himself, and made a move to sit upright. He sank back with his mouth drawn awry by the severity of his pain, and forced the semblance of a laugh upon these pale lips.

"I thought at first I was home, and you were my brother," he said.

"How bad are you hurt? Can you walk?" Lafe demanded. "We've got to get out of this. The woods are on fire, and the wind is blowing it dead this way. Where are you hit?"

"Minie ball here—between the shoulder and the lung, I hope," replied the other, indicating his left side. "It's stiffened and I can't lift myself. Help me on my feet, and I guess I can walk away."

Lafe put an arm under him and gave him his hand. The lieutenant, with a groan, set his teeth and scrambled up on his feet. He looked about him for an instant, and then hastily seated himself on the stump.

"I'm dizzy for the minute," he murmured. "I must have lost so much blood. It's afternoon, isn't it?"

"Past five. You'd better brace up now, and try to come on. Which way is it?"

The officer looked vaguely around. "I hardly know," he confessed. "I can just remember dragging myself off into the swamp. I thought I should find some water, and I guess my strength gave out about here. Somebody came along and pulled off my boots and stockings, and went through my pockets, but I was too near dead to resist, and I kept my eyes shut."

"Well, you want to keep 'em open now. This must be the way out, according to the wind. That's it; get your arm over my shoulder, and we'll make a break."

They walked thus for a dozen steps or so, the officer leaning a little on Lafe's right shoulder. Then the wounded man stopped.

"I'd rather you went ahead," he called into the boy's ear. "The branches knock against my game side, this way. I'll keep behind you;" and so they went on again, Lafe pushing the saplings and boughs aside for the other.

The smoke had become almost blinding now, as it sifted through the motionless air of the thicket. The noises had risen now into a pandemonium of uproar—on the left the furious bellowing of the tempest and the flames, to the right a series of outbursts that shook the earth like mine explosions. It sometimes seemed to Lafe as if he distinguished the cheers and vague cries of men, off on the other side—and then back would come the chaotic din.

Awed and deafened, the two pushed doggedly on, Lafe stealing glances over his shoulder, to see if the officer was following. He came, holding to the branches with his right hand for support, and striving to pick soft places for his bare feet among the stones and prickly ground vines.

It had suddenly grown very hot. The heat began to sting Lafe's forehead and eyes. They were advancing into the temperature of a veritable furnace. The crackling noises to the left had swollen all at once to an angry tumult close at hand.

Looking up with smarting eyes through the pungent smoke, the boy beheld scattered flashes of flame dotting the murky shadows of the forest beyond, and even as he looked these tongues of fire ran forward under the wind with darting swiftness. An imperative outcry behind Lafe called a halt. He turned as his companion reeled, clutched wildly at an ash sapling, and fell against it, his head hanging helplessly forward on his breast.

"It's no use," he gasped, as the boy strode back. "I'm choking, and I'm played out. I can't go another step."

He falteringly lifted one of his torn and bleeding feet, and put it down again. His arm slipped from around the sapling, and he would have fallen if Lafe had not caught him.

"Why don't you be a man!" the boy screamed shrilly through the tumult.

A sort of angry desperation seized upon Lafe. He would drag this Ohio tenderfoot out of the fire in spite of himself. With rough energy he fitted his shoulder under the officer's armpit, and drew his right arm forward in the determined clutch of both his hands.

"Come on now, the best way you can. Never mind your feet or your shoulder either!" he yelled, and then, stiffening his back under the burden, he staggered forward.

He could never afterward recall anything definitely of how he did it, or how long it took. But through the shrivelling heat, through the murderous swoop of fire and smoke, somehow he came. All at once there was the play of cooler air upon his face. Instead of the choking smoke and darkness he was wrapped about by a clean wind. It had grown suddenly daylight again.

Bent almost double under his burden, he strove in vain to fill his lungs with this fresh air. It was dimly in his mind to straighten himself, and breathe in all he could hold. But the load on his back seemed to be pressing him further down, and whirling him round as well.

Then he was lying face downward, on dry, soft earth with the sharp edges of stiff marsh grass in his hair. Something heavy lay across him. He rolled himself free from the encumbrance, and stretched himself out luxuriously on his back. The wind soughed pleasantly through the reeds about his head.

He went to sleep, dreaming placidly as he dropped off that ordered swarms of men were passing through the tall grass close beside him, firing volleys and cheering as they fired.

Four red points of light, at regular distances apart, and shining faintly against a broad canopy of blackness, was what Lafe, still lying on his back, beheld when he woke. He looked at them lazily for what seemed a long time, and did not care in the least what they signified. Then, quite without any effort, he knew that they were lanterns hung on a rope.

There were sinuous lines of motion in the darkness above the lanterns, and these revealed themselves to him as the sides of canvas-strips stirring in the wind. This, too, did not seem important, and he indolently closed his eyes again.

A sharp cry, ringing abruptly out close at hand, awoke him more thoroughly. He even lifted his head a little, and saw many more lights—lanterns, kerosene lamps, and tallow-dips stuck in bottles. They stretched out irregularly in all directions, illumining little patches of space, which seemed all the smaller by comparison with the vast blocks of deep shadows surrounding them.

The radiance of many of these lights centred upon a broad table, about which several men were standing in their shirtsleeves, and with aprons like butchers. There seemed to be another man lying on this table, and one of his legs was bared to the thigh. Some of these shadowy figures moved, and another cry arose. Lafe shut his eyes, and turned away from the spectacle.

There was now a rustle of straw under him, and he noted that his head was resting on a canvas pillow filled with straw. A strong smell, as of arnica, attracted his attention. Now he understood that he was in a hospital tent.

He wondered where he himself had been hurt. Except for a general, dull aching of the muscles, he was conscious of no special pain. He tried opening and closing his fingers, and moving his toes.

Each member seemed in working order. He passed his hands along his sides, and still found nothing amiss. But his head certainly did ache.

Vague recollection of the events of the day began to stir in his memory, but not at all in their right order. It seemed as if it was Foldeen Schell whom he had carried out of the burning woods, and nearer still in point of time seemed to be Red Pete's stifling grip upon his neck. Then, somehow, his thoughts drifted to the watch and its inscription.

He drowsily tried to think what this Lyman Hornbeck must be like—a gray-bearded old man and a church-member, and yet only a lieutenant. So his vagrant fancy drifted about on the border-land of sleep.

Suddenly there were voices close about him. Half opening his eyes, Lafe blinked at three or four torches which some soldiers were holding up at the foot of his bed. A half-dozen officers were there as well, and the foremost one was General Boyce.

The light hurt Lafe's eyes, and he closed them. The general's cheery voice remained in his ears, though, and conveyed so true a notion of the man that Lafe seemed to continue to behold him, the red torchlight heightening the glow of health on his round cheeks and shining in his brave, kindly eyes.

"Oh, you'll be up and about in a day or two," the general was saying, in a hearty, encouraging way. "Won't he, surgeon-major?"

"Well, inside a week," answered another voice. "The wound in itself wasn't much. It's the loss of blood that's worst."

"Lieutenant," the general went on, "if I don't call you captain when you get back from your furlough, it won't be my fault. You've been mentioned in the despatches. Your company's tussle with the breastwork under the hill was as plucky a thing as has been done to-day. Well, good luck to you!"

There was a rattle of spurs and swords, as if the group were moving, and then Lafe was conscious that the young Ohio officer spoke, as if from the very next bed.

"O general," he called out, "I'll save my own thanks for some other time! But I want you to take notice of this boy here. He's one who ought to be mentioned in despatches. I'd have been roasted alive if it hadn't been for him. He came into the woods and found me, and routed me up, and made me walk, and when I gave out he actually carried me right through the blaze. Talk about charging the breast-work! What he did was worth fifty of it."

Lafe felt through his closed eyelids that the torches were being held so as to cover him with their light. Oddly enough, he seemed without desire to look.

"I won't forget," said the general. "How badly off is he?"

"He was brought in with the lieutenant here," returned the surgeon-major. "I didn't see him myself. You were here, nurse?"

A woman's voice took up the thread: "Poor little fellow, he doesn't seem to have been shot, but his head was laid open to the bone somehow. Doctor Alvord thought it must have been a horse's hoof."

"We were both on the ground in the way when the big charge down the run was made," explained the lieutenant. "He must have got trampled on. I think he's a drummer in the brigade band. I noticed him when we went into line this morning."

"I wonder if it can be our Juno Mills boy," broke in the general. Lafe felt that the great man was bending over close to him. "Some Dutchman in the band was telling a tremendous yarn about a youngster who went down alone into the breast-work after it was deserted, and had a fight, single-handed, with a baggage-thief, and played the deuce generally. Does anybody know whether he's the same one?"

Lafe could never understand afterward what ailed him to behave so, but at this he kept his breathing down to its gentlest possible form. The general and his attendants moved off down the aisles, halting with the torches at other bedsides to give cheer. Their going gave Lafe leisure for the thought which interested him most.

The news that his head had been laid open to the bone had fascinated him. He put up a hand now and felt of his skull. It was covered all over with interlaced strips of stiff plaster encased in a soft linen bandage drawn tight.

"Are you feeling all right?"

It was the voice of the lieutenant. Lafe, proud of his plasters, opened his eyes and made out the young officer, propped up with a couple of straw pillows on the bed next his.

"My head aches a little, that's all," said Lafe. "Say, we had a squeak for it, didn't we?"

"I shan't forget it—nor you," responded the other.

"Cleveland's in Ohio, ain't it?" the boy asked, all at once pursuing a subject which had kept dodging in and out of his mind. "Perhaps you know an old man in one of the Ohio regiments—he must be getting along toward sixty—he's a lieutenant, and his name's Lyman Hornbeck. I was looking for him this afternoon when—when I lighted on you."

The young officer, quite heedless of his bandages, sat bolt upright and stared at Lafe as if too much amazed for words.

"I don't know what you're driving at," he said at last. "My name is Lyman Hornbeck, and I'm a Cleveland man and a lieutenant—but I'm a long way off from sixty. You can't mean my father? He's been dead two years. His name was Lyman. Why, hold on! General Boyce said something about Juno Mills—my father came from near there—you don't mean to say you're a Hornbeck?"

An irresistible impulse moved Lafe to crawl out of his bed and totter across to the other's pallet. He sat down on the edge of it, and leaned his head back on the officer's two pillows.

"Say, I'm Steve Hornbeck's son," he said, "and your father was my Uncle Lyme. Do you know, I kind of felt like takin' a shine to you when you spoke to me early this morning."

The officer had put his arm affectionately round the boy's neck. "Why, don't you remember," he cried, with pleased interest, "how I said I had a brother like you at home?"

And so the two lay close together in a delighted gossip until the surgeon came, and laughingly but peremptorily drove them apart. They told him something of the strange story, and an attendant went out and found Foldeen, and brought him in, and he added many striking variations to the legend which now, by midnight, had become the talk of the brigade.

General Boyce came back to the hospital tent purposely to see the boy from his own Dearborn County whom men were talking about. He nodded his head approvingly as he stood by the bedside and listened to Foldeen's excited narrative of the lad's fight with Red Pete.

"I remember hearing of that fellow before," he said. "We'll hang him in the morning, if we have to go without breakfast to do it."

Foldeen shook his head. "He is no good for hanging, dot Red Pete," he explained. "When the fire is gone out by dot breastwork where he vas, maybe you find some chargoals from him—und maybe two, dree buttons—dot's all."

The beautiful city by the lake wore its most velvety, green robes of June when Lieutenant Hornbeck, who had been home invalided for some weeks, was able at last to accept the reception which the good people of St. Mark's Church wished to hold in his honor.

It seemed as if all Cleveland sought for admission to this festival of welcome to the brave young officer. Yet when he came in, leaning on his wife's arm, and with the flush of honest pride mantling upon the pallor of his face, it turned out that the real hero of the evening was the wiry, brown-faced boy he brought with him.

Lafe's story had been told in many other places. They knew it by heart here in his new home, where henceforth he was to live with his cousin. He blushed many times that evening at the things admiring people said to his face about him, and he still says if folks will insist on discussing it, that the only interesting thing of the whole day was his taking a shine to his cousin before he knew who he was.