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HOME > Classical Novels > The Blue Balloon > CHAPTER VI.A FREE BREAKFAST.
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 By time!’ gasped1 Ephraim, struggling to recover his breath. ‘Thet war a narrow squeak2. Hi! Luce, how ye plugged him.’ He chuckled3 gleefully.  
Lucius only nodded. He was too short of wind to attempt to speak.
‘If I’d on’y had my gun, I’d hev gin him ez good ez he gin me and better,’ went on Ephraim. ‘D’ye reckon he war in ’arnest, Luce, with his talk about hangin’, or war it on’y jest ter skeer us ’cause we riled him?’
‘Just—as—well—got—away—think he—meant it,’ panted Lucius, still breathless.
‘Ah! waal, maybe he did. Sorter knocks out one’s belief in one’s feller-critters, though, runnin’ up agin a pestiferous calamity4 like that cunnel. Howsumever, we got the bulge5 on him, we did. My! Luce, ye air a man right down ter yer boots!’
‘I’m a miserable6 coward, that’s what I am,’ said Lucius passionately7. ‘After the way I behaved in the balloon, I wonder you would do anything for me.’ He 75shuddered, though, as he spoke9, at the frightful10 reminiscence.
‘Ez ter thet,’ returned Ephraim, ‘nobody could say a word agin ye fer bein’ sot back. ’Twar an onusual kind er stomachful fer a young man jest out fer a picnic.’
‘That’s all very well,’ lamented12 Lucius, ‘but I disgraced myself. You know I did.’
‘Shucks!’ remarked Ephraim. ‘Look at what ye did jest now. But say,’ he went on, wishful to close the discussion, ‘we can’t stay here after what that red-faced old lump er mischief13 said.’
‘What did he say?’ inquired Lucius. ‘I was so busy getting away that I’m afraid I was rude enough not to pay any attention.’
‘Same here,’ grinned Ephraim; ‘but I heard him ‘tween whiles. “Foller them up,” he yells ter the soldiers. “Ye’ll drive ’em straight inter14 our lines.”’
‘What did he mean by that?’ asked Lucius. ‘I should have thought we were within the Yankee lines when we were taken prisoners.’
‘Waal, we kinder war, and we kinder warn’t,’ said Ephraim. ‘This is the way I put it up,’ he went on to explain with considerable shrewdness. ‘I ’magine thar must hev been a fight somewhar around hyar, and the cunnel thar, whatever his name is, has lit out er harm’s way. He started off ter make his way back ter the camp, gatherin’ up men ez he went along, and unfortnitly fer us, he happened ter cross the clearin’ et the precise moment we came down in it.’ Which, as the reader knows, is just what had happened.
‘Well, he’ll have a fine story to tell when he does get back to camp,’ laughed Lucius.
‘Won’t he?’ laughed Ephraim back. ‘Ye may resk your last dime15 he won’t make no small thing of it. My! I wish we could be thar ter hear him.’
‘Oh, thank you,’ said Lucius hilariously16. ‘I’ve had enough of him for one day. I shall be quite content to read his speech in the papers.’
‘Ho! ho! ho!’ guffawed17 Ephraim. ‘Ain’t ye jest ticklish18, Luce!’
They were both so overjoyed at their escape from the double danger of the morning that they had no room left for further apprehension19. But presently Ephraim was recalled to a sense of the gravity of the situation by the distant notes of a bugle20.
‘Hear thet!’ he exclaimed. ‘Thet tells ye. Say, Luce, it won’t do fer us to set still hyar. Don’t ye know this kentry’s full er Yanks. It’s bound ter be. We must try and make our way ter old Stonewall’s lines.’
‘Where are they, I wonder,’ said Lucius.
‘I wish I knew. Fact is, I’d no idee we could hev come so fer. I thort we must be close home.’ He called it hum.
‘So did I,’ agreed Lucius. ‘Old Blue Bag, as you call that horrible balloon, must have travelled far and fast.’
‘I wish we war in her now,’ said Ephraim disconsolately21.
‘Oh! no, no, no,’ exclaimed Lucius vehemently22. ‘I’d rather be hanged a hundred times than go through that horrible experience again.’
‘Waal, ye wouldn’t feel the ninety-nine, after ye’d got comfortably done with the first,’ said Ephraim with one of his quiet grins. ‘But it don’t foller, 77because we got into one rumpus up in the clouds, thet we’d immediately git inter another. We wouldn’t go so high for one thing.’
‘No, no, I tell you,’ cried Lucius, almost as terrified at the prospect23 as he had been at the reality. ‘I wouldn’t get into the awful thing again to save my life.’
Ephraim looked at him silently for a moment. Then he said with a little sigh: ‘Waal, Luce, I reckon ye won’t be put ter it ter make the choice, fer by this time I should say old Blue Bag has either been busted24 by thet pesky cunnel, or took inter camp by the men.’
‘Oh!’ said Lucius regretfully, ‘I am real mean, Grizzly25, after all the trouble you took to make it.’
‘Waal, waal, I ain’t keerin,’ answered Ephraim hastily. ‘It’s gone now, and thar’s an end er it. Ye’ll oblige me, Luce, if ye don’t say no more about it.—Hark!’ as the bugle sounded once more. ‘Thet tells us we’d better quit.’
‘I wonder what it means,’ pondered Lucius, rising to his feet.
‘What, thet call?’ answered Ephraim. ‘Breakfast, I ’magine. I know I feel it must be somewhar about that time. Got yer watch?’
‘No,’ replied Lucius; ‘I forgot that, like everything else, in my hurry to leave home.’
He thought for a minute and added: ‘Say, Grizzly, how are we to know but what that bugle is being blown in our own lines somewhere? It’s as likely as not.’
‘Thar’s suthin’ in what ye say,’ answered Ephraim. ‘We sutt’nly don’t know whether old Stonewall is ahead of us, or behind, or to the right or to the left. 78We don’t know nuthin’, and we can’t see nuthin’ fer this pesky wood shuttin’ out the sky. Ef we could see the sun, we might git an idee of the lay of the land. We’ll move on, anyway.’
‘In what direction then?’
‘It don’t matter. All roads is alike sence we don’t know the right one. We’ll move towards the music. On’y we must feel our way cautious.’
‘And keep a sharp eye for the colonel,’ observed Lucius.
‘By time! yes. I wouldn’t give much fer our chances ef he gripped holt on us now after that smack26 in the face ye gin him. Ef he warn’t in ’arnest before, he will be ef ever he ketches us agen.’
‘He owes you one as well, Grizzly, for the tumble you gave him,’ laughed Lucius.
‘I reckon,’ answered Ephraim. ‘But then he war down on me right from the beginnin’, ’cause he got it inter his thick head I meant ter be impident ter him.’
They walked along for half an hour or so, entirely27 ignorant of their direction, until at last the trees began to thin out, and it was evident that they were approaching either the edge of the wood or another clearing. Past experience had taught them caution, and they were wise enough not to break cover until they had very carefully surveyed their surroundings. It was as well. Stealing from tree to tree and treading as softly as they could, they at length reached a point where they could see into the open.
What a sight! Grand, impressive, but just then particularly alarming to our two boys, for right in front of them, upon a small hillock, frowned eight black-muzzled cannon28, while a lane which led from a handsome house to a mill beside the stream was packed with Federal troops. Camp-fires were blazing and crackling cheerily in the open, and the grateful odour of coffee was wafted29 to the noses of the hungry boys. Ephraim signalled silently with his hand, and as quietly as they had come, the two glided30 back into the friendly shelter of the deep woods. ‘By time!’ whispered Ephraim, when they had reached a safe point, as they thought, ‘thet was a mighty31 nasty sight. Ef we’d walked inter the open, we’d hev been goners shore enuff.’
‘It looked as if they were expecting something,’ whispered Lucius back.
‘It’s maybe old Stonewall they’re waitin’ fer,’ said Ephraim. ‘Shucks! ef we git between their firin’, we’ll be a heap wusser off’n we war in Blue Bag.’
‘That’s not possible,’ affirmed Lucius, with another shudder8. The impression left upon him was evidently not likely to fade in a hurry.
‘My land, Luce!’ exclaimed Ephraim, who had been thinking so deeply that he failed to hear his companion’s remark, ‘I tell ye we’re in a pretty mess.’
‘Why, what’s wrong now?’ asked Lucius.
‘I’ll tell ye. Thar’s the Yankee army, or a right smart slice of it, way aback yander, frontin’ the wood. Now it ain’t likely that if they’re on the lookout32 for old Stonewall—and I reckon they air—thet they’d leave this wood unguarded jest for him to pop right out on ’em and give ’em howdy while they war drinkin’ their coffee. Is it, now?’
‘No, it isn’t,’ admitted Lucius. ‘Well?’
‘Waal, ye may be ez shore ez ye air standin’ whar ye air that the wood is full er their pickets33; likely 80enough the last line er ’em is almost techin’ noses with Stonewall’s men. Anyway, we’ve got ’em all round us, and between us and our own boys, wharever they may be. Ye kin11 make yer mind easy on thet. And it’s a mercy we han’t come plump on some er ’em before now.’
‘Then we’re about done for,’ said Lucius. ‘It’s only a question of time before we light on some of them if we keep on walking.’
‘Hold on, sonny,’ returned Ephraim cheerfully. ‘It ain’t so bad ez thet yit. It’s pretty tough, this situation is, I’ll allow; but we ain’t goin’ ter Fortress34 Monroe ’thout a worry ter git back ter Staunton. Ye see,’ he went on, ‘they’re bound to be pretty thick in the wood; but et the same time they can’t be everywhar. We’ll keep on going cautious, and maybe we’ll out-flank ’em yit. Come on!’
‘I wish we had a couple of pots of their coffee,’ sighed Lucius. ‘My! didn’t it smell good?’
‘We’ll forage35 ez we go along,’ said Ephraim. ‘Ye never know what ye’ll find ef ye keep on looking.’
The truth of this bit of philosophy presently became unpleasantly manifest, for after they had wandered on for a quarter of an hour, Lucius suddenly pulled up short with a smothered37 exclamation38 of disgust.
‘What is it?’ muttered Ephraim. ‘D’ye see any one?’
For answer Lucius pointed39 with his right hand, averting40 his face, which was very pale. Ephraim followed the guiding finger. ‘By time!’ he exclaimed, ‘they’ve got it shore enuff.’
A few paces away and close together were the dead bodies of two Federal soldiers, lying on their backs 81with white, upturned faces, and sightless eyes that stared fixed41 up into the dense42 foliage43 that swept above them.
‘Pore critters!’ said Ephraim sympathetically, all feeling but that of humanity banished44 for the moment from his breast. ‘Thar’s somebody lookin’ for them ez will be sorry they don’t come home. Thar must hev been a rumpus round hyar lately, Luce.’
‘I don’t see any more,’ answered Lucius, looking round; ‘and there are no signs of a struggle anywhere about.’
‘Why, thet’s so,’ admitted Ephraim, also surveying the ground. ‘Waal then, how do they come ter be lyin’ thar?—I’ll tell ye, Luce, most likely thar war a fight yesterday, and they got wounded. Then they sot out ter fetch up ter their own lines agen, and death follered ’em up and overtook ’em before they could git thar. See hyar,’ he continued, kneeling down by the fallen men, ‘this one has a hole in the right side er his coat. He must hev bled ter death inside. And the other one hez got it in the leg. See, his trousers is all over blood, and he’s tied his handkerchief round the place ter try and stop the bleedin’. The wonder is thet he war able to walk at all. Maybe he crawled. Pore critters! pore critters!’
‘How can you bear to touch them?’ said Lucius faintly. ‘They look dreadful.’
‘Ah!’ returned Ephraim sententiously, ‘it’s a pictur er the war thet didn’t strike us afore we set out, or maybe we wouldn’t hev been in such a hurry to come. Ye kin see now, Luce,’ he finished grimly, ‘what we’d hev looked like ef the cunnel bed got his way.’
‘Don’t!’ exclaimed Lucius. ‘Come on. Let us get 82out of this. We can’t do them any good by staring at them.’
‘Thet’s so,’ acquiesced45 Ephraim, rising to his feet.—‘By time! thet’s a good idee,’ he suddenly ejaculated. ‘I tell ye what it is, Luce. Ye air right when ye say we can’t do them no good, pore men; but I reckon it won’t do ’em enny harm nuther, ef we make use of ’em fer our own benefit.’
‘Why, what do you mean?’ inquired Lucius, bewildered. ‘How can we make use of them?’
‘See their clothes?’ answered Ephraim. ‘Ef we git inside ’em, it’ll be ez good ez a free pass ter us anywhar about the Yankee lines. Come now, Luce,’ as the boy made a gesture of horror, ‘this ain’t no time fer bein’ squeamish. We’re in a muss, and we’re bound to git out of it the best way we kin. Besides, it can’t hurt them, remember.’
‘It’s too awful!’ gasped Lucius. ‘It’s robbing the dead.’
‘It ain’t nuthin’ of the kind,’ retorted Ephraim. ‘It’s on’y their coats and trousers we want, and their caps. I reckon Uncle Sam paid fer thet lot. And we’ll cover ’em up with our own. Come now, Luce, do be reasonable.’
He knelt down again and with no irreverent touch began to remove the outer garments from one of the fallen men. ‘This one’s not much taller than ye air yourself, Luce,’ he said, throwing the coat and trousers towards the reluctant Lucius. ‘Ye kin take this lot. The other man’s about my height. Not so lanky46, maybe; but it’ll do, I reckon. Ah! now, Luce, make up yer mind and put ’em on. We han’t got so much time ez all thet.’
He threw off his own clothes and assumed the uniform he had chosen, and in a moment or two Lucius, bowing to the stronger will, did likewise.
‘Feel in the pockets. Luce,’ suggested Ephraim. ‘Ef thar’s ennything they set store by, I reckon we don’t want to take it away from ’em.’ But search revealed nothing. The dead Federals had evidently been both poor and friendless. Probably they had enlisted47 as substitutes, or as bounty48 men, no one caring where they went to or what became of them. Arms and accoutrements they had none, for these had been flung away for lightness’ sake when they started on their last sad march. Quietly and carefully Ephraim laid the clothes they had discarded over the corpses49, and then, turning to Lucius, who still remained distressfully silent, took him by the arm and led him away from the dismal50 spot.
‘I wish we’d got their guns,’ said the Grizzly, a few moments later. ‘I’d hev felt safer thet way; but I reckon they throwed ’em off somewhar. No matter, we’ve found so much already thet we may run up against some in good time.’
‘I hope we shall not run up against any more dead men,’ said Lucius dismally51.
‘I’m with ye thar,’ answered Ephraim. ‘’Tain’t the purtiest sight in the world, I’ll allow.—My! Luce, ye do look a spruce young soldier, I tell ye.’
‘Do I?’ said Lucius, smiling faintly. ‘I’m afraid I don’t feel very like one just now. That poor man was taller than you thought, Grizzly. The coat is all right, but the trousers are dreadfully long.’
‘Roll ’em up a bit, then,’ advised the Grizzly. ‘Set 84your cap a leetle more ter wan36 side. Thar, now ye’ll do. Say, ain’t we a pair er fust-class invaders52 when all’s said and done?’
‘You seem to have forgotten one thing,’ said Lucius lightly, for he was beginning to accommodate himself to circumstances.
‘And what might that be, bub?’
‘Why, though no doubt we shall be all right if we meet any Federals so long as we have these uniforms on, yet, suppose we run against our own men, where shall we be then?’
‘Safe, I reckon,’ answered Ephraim promptly53. ‘I guess in thet case we’ll be took prisoners, and if we’re not, why, we’ll give ourselves up ter the fust Confederate we set eyes on, and arsk him ter be obligin’ enuff ter arrest us.’
‘But supposing they shoot before they ask?’ went on Lucius.
‘I’ll be durned ef I suppose ennything er the kind,’ retorted Ephraim. ‘I’ll wait till it happens and then tell ye both what I think of it.—Thar’s wan thing, though, Luce,’ he added. ‘Ye look all right in wan way, smart and spry and all thet; but ye’re too young by a long sight.’
‘I can’t help that,’ giggled54 Lucius, ‘unless you’ll lend me a bit of your beard.’
‘I would and willin’,’ answered Ephraim seriously, ‘ef it would stick on.—Hi! I’ve got a notion. Hold up a minnit, Luce. Ye mustn’t mind ef I spoil yer beauty a bit.’
He grubbed up a handful of loose soil as he spoke, and catching55 hold of the astonished Lucius, rubbed it well into his face and neck.
85‘What’s that for?‘cried Lucius indignantly, starting back.
‘Reckon thet’s taken some er the bloom off’n ye,’ grinned Ephraim. ‘Hold on! I han’t finished with ye yet. Plague take it, I wish I hadn’t lost my knife. By time! hyar’s one in the corner er this yer coat pocket. What a good thing! I never felt it before. Now, lend us yer handkercher.’
‘Why,’ said Lucius, handing him the required article, ‘whatever are you going to do?’
‘I’ll show ye afore ye kin turn round,’ replied the Grizzly, and opening the clasp-knife, deliberately56 cut his finger.
‘Grizzly!’ cried Lucius. ‘Are you gone mad?’
‘Not me,’ retorted Ephraim coolly. ‘Never felt more level-headed in all my life, thank ye. See thet now.’
He let the blood from his finger drip upon Luce’s handkerchief until the latter was thoroughly57 spotted58 with the bright red stains.
‘Now then, up she goes,’ he cried; and plucking off Luce’s cap, with a deft59 turn he bound the blood-soaked handkerchief about the boy’s brow. ‘Thar,’ he chuckled, as he replaced the cap, and stepped backwards60 to survey his handiwork. ‘Ye’ll do now, I should say. Why, don’t ye know, thet puts three or four years onter ye at once. Not ter speak er it givin’ ye a look ez ef ye’d come through some tar’ble hard fightin’. We kin move along now ’thout worryin’ ourselves, Luce, fer thar ain’t a Yank ez is likely ter stop us, ’ceptin’, ef course, ef we’re seen tryin’ ter pass the pickets.’
‘You’re a genius, Grizzly, as I’ve said before,’ remarked 86Lucius. ‘But I wish you hadn’t cut your finger like that.’
‘Pooh! ’tain’t nuthin’,’ answered Ephraim, vigorously sucking the wounded member. ‘I tell ye what it is, Luce, ef we don’t git suthin’ ter eat pretty soon, I’ll hev ter begin on my boots. I’m thet low, ye can’t imagine.’
‘Can’t I?’ replied Lucius. ‘Ever since I got that whiff of coffee in my nostrils61, I’ve been sighing for some. Seriously, though, we must get food somewhere. We can’t go on walking all day upon nothing.’
‘The cunnel ’lowed he war goin’ ter teach us ter dance upon nuthin’,’ said Ephraim, chuckling62 at the reminiscence. ‘The very fust Yank I come across, I’m goin’ up ter him to arsk him fer a bite er suthin’.’
‘And suppose he hasn’t got anything?’
‘Oh! drap yer supposin’, Luce. I tell ye it’s a sartinty. But ’sposin’ he han’t, since ye will be always ’sposin’, then I’ll eat him ez he stands, and make no bones about it.’
‘Supposing it’s the colonel,’ laughed Lucius.
‘Aw, yah! No, I wouldn’t tech his pesky carcass with a forty-foot pole with an iron spike63 on the end er it.’
‘I’d give something to know whereabouts we are,’ said Lucius. ‘How do we know we are in the valley at all?’
‘Pho!’ answered Ephraim, ‘I ’low I never thought er it in thet light. Er co’se we mought hev been blown across the Blue Ridge64 during the night; but I reckon not. I should say we’re in the valley right enuff, somewhar ’twixt Staunton and Winchester.’
‘That’s a wide range.’
87‘Waal, I know thet; but it’s the best I kin do fer ye till we git outer this wood and strike up agin some spot that’ll serve us as a landmark65.—Hello! Hyar we come ter the edge er the wood agen. Hist! now. Let’s go cautious.’
Had they but known it, they were not a quarter of a mile from the spot where they had observed the Federal cannon planted, for they had simply been wandering round and round among the trees, and before long would probably have found themselves back again in view of the Federal camp. They had simply changed their direction slightly without ever getting very far from the open country, and now they halted to hold a short council of war.
‘I tell ye what it is,’ began Ephraim. ‘Thar’s no sense in our moochin’ round through the woods like this, never beginnin’ anywhar, and always endin’ up nowhar. We’ll go now and take a squint66 inter the open, and ef the kentry seems cl’ar, we’ll march along the edge of the woods instead of through ’em. That’ll be a lump better, and et the fust sign er danger we kin slip back among the trees.’
‘That sounds a good idea,’ agreed Lucius.
‘Well, come and let us survey the ground right hyar.’
They advanced together, cautiously still, but more boldly than before, for their disguises gave them confidence, and they were not now so concerned at the prospect of meeting a stray Federal or two, provided they could keep clear of the pickets.
‘Thar’s not a soul in sight, Luce,’ said Ephraim, peering through the trees.—‘Hello! I see a house.’
‘Where?’ asked Lucius, edging up to him.
88‘Thar, a hundred yards or so away ter the left. That is, ef ye call it a house, fer I reckon it’s on’y a log cabin.’
The cabin, for such it really was, to which Ephraim drew his comrade’s attention, stood folded in, as it were, between two out-jutting arms of the wood. The long arm, the actual trend of the wood in the same line as the boys, swept so close to the back of the house as to almost touch it. Certainly not more than ten paces separated the one from the other. The second arm, formed by a spur of the wood springing off almost at right angles to the main forest, bounded a clearing in front and at the far side of the house. Looked at from the boys’ point of view, the back of the house with a solitary67 window was in full view, one side partly visible, while the front and far side were quite out of their line of sight.
‘Thar don’t seem no one ter stop us,’ said Ephraim, after they had studied the position for a few minutes. ‘I vote we go up ter thet cabin, and ef the owner’s ter hum, we kin arsk him fer some breakfast.’
‘I like the notion,’ answered Lucius, smacking68 his lips. ‘I suppose we may take it for granted that it isn’t a Yankee who inhabits the house.’
‘In the valley! I should smile!’ remarked Ephraim with fine scorn. ‘Anyway we’ll be all right, fer ef by any accident it is a bunkum Yank thet lives thar, our uniforms will fetch him. He can’t help hisself when it comes to feedin’ a wounded comrade.’ He glanced at the handkerchief on Luce’s head and grinned. ‘But thar,’ he went on, ‘what’d a Yank be doin’ farmin’ in the valley? I guess it’ll be all squar. Come and let’s see.’
89They re-entered the wood and worked their way along, keeping well within the trees until they came opposite to the back of the cabin. The window, or rather hole in the wall which did duty for such, was destitute69 of glass, and the shutter70 which served to close it swung idly on creaking hinges in the light morning breeze.
‘Smell that!’ said Ephraim, sniffing71 the air. ‘The old man, whoever he is, has got hot coffee fer breakfast. This ain’t no fat thing, I reckon. Oh, no!’ He rubbed his hands together gleefully.
‘On you go, then,’ urged Lucius. ‘Only go easy. We don’t want to put our heads into a hornet’s nest.’
They left the cover of the woods, and crossing the narrow strip of ground, approached the window and looked into the cabin.
It was a one-roomed affair, built entirely of logs, with no flooring and no ceiling. Only under the roof three or four strong rafters ran from end to end, and across these at one end were laid half a dozen stout72 planks73 or slabs74, forming a makeshift loft75. The remainder of the roof space was vacant and unboarded. Not quite opposite to the window was the door, which was closed, and in the middle of the solitary chamber76 stood—oh! gracious and appetite-inspiring sight!—a rough-hewn table, covered with all manner of delicacies77. A pot of steaming coffee was flanked by three or four tin cups full of milk, and a fine cut of ham stood royally among tinned meats of sorts, broken biscuits, and last, but not least, a jar of jam. And all this spread of dainties stood unheeded. Apparently78 there was no one to enjoy it.
‘By time!’ whispered Ephraim. ‘Did ever ye see 90the like? The old man is goin’ ter hev a good time fer once, I ’magine. Step right in, Luce. We won’t wait till he comes in. I’m sartin he’d like us to make ourselves at home.’
‘Hush!’ whispered Lucius back warningly. ‘I am sure I hear some one.’
‘Keep still, then, till I go and reckoniter,’ breathed Ephraim. ‘I won’t be a minnit.’
He stole away round the hut, and presently returned, his face purple, and the sleeve of his tunic79 stuffed into his mouth to prevent the inward laughter which convulsed him from finding outward expression. ‘By time!’ he chuckled softly, as soon as he had regained80 his self-command. ‘Sech a joke! Lay low, Luce. Say nuthin’; but laugh!’
‘Why, what is it?’ whispered Lucius. ‘What did you see?’
‘Ye’d never begin ter believe it,’ responded Ephraim in the same soft undertone. ‘Who d’ ye think thet breakfast’s fer? Why, fer the Yankee gin’ruls theyselves. There’s a knot of ’em way yander in the clearin’ ’sputin’ ’bout suthin’; and there’s a sentry81 marchin’ up and down before the door as stiff as a ramrod. By time! it’s lucky they didn’t think of guardin’ the window.’
‘It was the sentry I heard,’ said Lucius.
‘I reckon. No matter. In with ye, bub. We’ll help ’em through with some er thet ham and them crackers82, and be off again before ye kin say knife.’
Lucius needed no second invitation, and followed closely by Ephraim, climbed noiselessly through the window. Without loss of time they drank off the mugs of milk, leaving the coffee untasted, because 91it was so very hot, and delays were dangerous. Then, while Lucius stuffed his pockets full of crackers, Ephraim employed his clasp-knife to better purpose than cutting his own fingers by slicing off a goodly wedge of the ham.
‘Ready, Luce?’ the Grizzly whispered, his face beaming with delight at the humour of the thing. ‘’Twon’t do ter wait fer our hosts. There’d be a leetle too much ter pay.’
Lucius nodded. He had just absorbed an enormous mouthful of jam, and was consequently unable to speak. But he sneaked83 to the window after Ephraim.
‘Bring the jam along,’ whispered the latter. ‘It’ll go fine with the crackers.’
He thrust his head out of the window, preparatory to climbing out, but instantly drew it in again with a low exclamation of intense disgust.
‘What is it?’ asked Lucius, who naturally could not see.
‘Thar’s a whole posse of soldiers jest ter the right at the edge er the woods,’ replied Ephraim. ‘They’re settin’ on the ground, so I reckon they mean ter stay. We’re trapped, Luce, and thet’s a fact. Ef it warn’t fer thet pesky sentry outside the door with his gun and all, we’d make a dash fer it, and never mind the gin’ruls. Ez it is, we’re done. No matter; we’ll jest hev ter brazen84 it out the best way we kin. They’ll take us fer two of their own men, and they can’t shoot us fer keepin’ ourselves from starvin’.’
‘Why not get up there and hide? It’s as dark as night,’ suggested Lucius, who in looking round the hut had discovered the improvised85 loft mentioned above.
92‘Git up whar?’ inquired Ephraim, who had not noticed it. ‘By time! The very place. Up with ye, Luce. They’re comin’ up. Hear their talk.’
Lucius replaced the jam upon the table, and making a leap from the ground, caught hold of one of the rafters and swung himself up on to the planking. Ephraim only waited to scatter86 a few crackers by the window and fling a couple more outside, and then he too sprang up and joined his comrade.
‘What did you do that for?’ asked Lucius.
‘Ye’ll see when they come in. Mum’s the word! Hyar they air.’
They retreated to the farthest extremity87 of the planking, against the gable of the hut, where they threw themselves down at full length; for, as Grizzly remarked, they might have to stay there for some time, and it would not do to run the risk of becoming cramped88.
Their faces were towards the open space where the table was set, and themselves completely hidden, not only by their position but by the surrounding gloom, they could see clearly all over the room, except immediately underneath89 them.
Scarcely had they taken their positions when the door swung open, and with a loud clatter90 of voices and jingling91 of swords, three Federal officers entered the hut.

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