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CHAPTER IX.HOW GENERAL SHIELDS SENT A DESPATCH TO GENERAL FRÉMONT.
hen the stampede before the onrush of the Virginians occurred, Ephraim and Lucius would have been heartily1 glad to bolt in the opposite direction—namely, towards their friends; but two circumstances precluded2 the possibility of such a course. The one, that without any consultation3 on the subject, they both recognised the danger they ran of being shot down or bayoneted by the men of the 37th, if they ventured to run towards them, dressed as they were in Federal uniforms. For in the fury of that charge but little opportunity was likely to arise for either offering or receiving explanations. Another and even more potent4 reason was that, however their inclinations5 might have prompted them to such a step, it was absolutely impossible for them to carry it out, for the rush of the Federal troops behind them swept them forward with such an irresistible6 impulse that they had no choice but to take to their heels in the direction of Lewiston. And this they did with a 132hearty good-will which the roar of cannon7 and rattle8 of musketry behind them kept very fully9 alive.
 
The retreat was not conducted in what is called good order. It was a regular sauve qui peut, and it was not until the fugitives10 ran into the fresh troops coming up to their support that a stand was made and something like a rally effected. But even these were of no avail, and the advance was promptly11 checked by the well-directed shot from the Confederate batteries, which were now all in position upon the opposite heights across the river; and the supporting columns, shattered by the murderous discharge, wavered, recoiled12, broke, and in their turn bolted back to the shelter of the woods near Lewiston. As they fled, the Confederates limbered up and pursued them, keeping, of course, to the north side of the river, till at last the discomfiture13 of the Federals was complete; and Shields, recognising the futility14 of any further attempt upon a position so well defended, and which he could only attack at such absolute disadvantage to himself, was compelled to remain quiet all day, actually within sound of the cannonade which told of the struggle in which Frémont was engaged alone at Cross Keys.
 
When the second repulse15 and consequent flight took place, Ephraim and Lucius followed the example of most of their comrades by compulsion, and sought the shelter of the woods, where they were at least safer from the cannonade than in the open. Looking up the valley from Lewiston towards Port Republic, a bird’s-eye view would have revealed three marked topographical features, roughly speaking, parallel to one another. On the right was the Shenandoah River; 133next to this, and to the left of it, open country and cultivated fields; and farther still to the left, the dense17 forest, three miles wide, which extended to the base of the Blue Ridge18. When forced to descend19 in the balloon, the boys had entered the wood on the side next the mountain, and their flight from the colonel and subsequent wanderings had carried them clear across it to the side facing the river, where they had fallen in with the little hut in the clearing, which was really a woodsman’s cabin on the Lewiston estate. They were now, therefore, still on the same side as the hut, but a mile or so above it.
 
‘I tell ye what it is, Luce,’ said Ephraim in his companion’s ear, as they hurried along, ‘we air goin’ too fast. We’ll be in the Yankee camp at this rate before many minnits is over. Let’s hang back a bit.’
 
They did so, gradually slackening their pace, and allowing the stream of fugitives to roll past them, till at last being, so far as they could see, alone, they sat down under a tree to take breath.
 
For a moment they looked at one another in silence. Then Ephraim said with a good deal of emotion in his voice: ‘I am the most or’nery fool in a town whar there’s a good few er the sort. I thort ter let ye hev a piece er funnin’, and now I’ve nearly been the death er ye twice, and gracious knows what’ll happen yit before we git through with this one-horse adventure.’
 
‘I don’t call it a one-horse adventure,’ replied Lucius. ‘A whole team would be more like it. I imagine this is what you might call a pretty crowded day. Eh, Grizzly21?’
 
‘Waal, I ’low it is so fur,’ admitted Ephraim with the ghost of a smile. ‘Same time, I dunno what I’d 134hev done ter myself ef ennythin’ had gone wrong with ye in thet rumpus jest now. I’d never hev got over it or fergiv myself. By time! ter see them two pore men go down like thet alongside us all in a moment. It might jest ez well hev been you.’ He blew his nose loudly, and furtively22 knuckled23 his eyes.
 
‘But it wasn’t, you see,’ returned Lucius cheerfully. ‘A miss is as good as a mile, Grizzly. And I wish you wouldn’t blame yourself, for I came with you of my own free will.’
 
‘Ye didn’t bargain fer all this, though,’ said Ephraim mournfully. ‘Ye didn’t ’magine ye were ter be stuck up ez a target fer our own boys.—By gracious!’ he added with animation24, forgetting his troubles in the glorious recollection, ‘didn’t they give the Yanks howdy in fine style? See ’em comin’ across thet bridge! Didn’t they jest nat’ally tear along?’
 
‘They did,’ answered Lucius with glistening25 eyes. ‘It was splendid.—So we’ve seen a battle after all,’ he went on, with a low laugh of satisfaction.
 
‘Ah!’ replied Ephraim. ‘And ye warn’t sittin’ on the ring fence nuther.’
 
‘No,’ chuckled26 Lucius, ‘and thet bull er Holmes’s is powerful servigerous.’ He laughed out again.
 
‘Garn away! What air ye givin’ me?’ said Ephraim. ‘But I ’low, Luce, ter see ye standin’ thar in the ranks like a bit er rock, it war marvellious.’
 
‘I can tell you I felt badly enough at first, when those two men were killed alongside us,’ said Lucius. ‘I might have been a thousand miles underground for all the power I had to move. I was simply stiffened27 where I stood. Then it all seemed to go away and leave me, and I felt quite cool. How did you feel?’
 
‘Pretty bad,’ admitted Ephraim. ‘But I war so taken up with thinkin’ about you thet it soon went orf.’ He made this remark in the most matter-of-fact way, not in the least to draw attention to his own unselfishness, but as if it were the most natural thing in the world that Lucius should be his first concern.
 
‘Well, I’m afraid that I was thinking of myself,’ said Lucius; ‘but after the first burst I only grew more and more interested in the fight.’
 
‘Oh yes,’ exclaimed Ephraim, struck by a sudden recollection. ‘What made ye turn round and say thet about old Blue Bag?’
 
The fire went out of Luce’s eyes; the glow faded from his cheeks and left them pale. Again the memory of those awful moments in the air overcame him. His voice was unsteady as he answered: ‘I don’t know what set me thinking of it; but all of a sudden the thought crossed me, and I felt as if I should die. I never shall forget it. I never can forget it as long as I live.’
 
He shuddered29 violently. He was not exaggerating. The impression made upon him by his adventures in the air had been supreme30. It had taken fast hold of some corner of his brain in a manner which perhaps the doctors could explain, and whenever imagination or memory called it forth31, it threatened to unman him.
 
Ephraim considered him curiously32. He could not understand the almost simultaneous exhibition of such opposite states of mind. However, he had wit enough to let the subject drop, and only answered: ‘Waal, we won’t talk about thet any more; I guess it’s over now. See hyar, Luce, I think our best plan will be to make fer thet little cabin agen and lie low thar till evenin’, when we kin16 make a break fer our lines.’
 
‘I don’t think that we ought to venture into that loft33 a second time,’ said Lucius. ‘If the general caught us there again and recognised you, there would be trouble.’
 
‘Thar would, shore enuff,’ agreed Ephraim; ‘but ye misonderstand me, Luce. I didn’t mean to hide in the loft, but ter walk right inter28 the cabin, lie down and take a snooze till it gits dark enuff ter be orf. Ef any one comes in we kin jest walk out agin. We kin always say we’re makin’ fer our lines.’
 
‘I see,’ said Lucius. ‘Very well. Besides, it doesn’t follow that the general will return. But are you sure that you can find your way there?’
 
‘Why wouldn’t we?’ returned Ephraim. ‘It’s on this side er the wood, and not so far away et thet. Come on.’
 
They hugged the edge of the wood, and after walking for twenty minutes or so, again reached the clearing in which the log cabin stood. No one was in sight; but still, instead of approaching it from the open side, they preferred to skirt the wood a little further and reconnoitre through the window in case of accidents.
 
At last they stood opposite to the window, and here Ephraim pulled Lucius back.
 
‘You stay hyar, Luce,’ he said. ‘I’ll go forward and see ef the coast is cl’ar.’
 
‘Not at all,’ answered Lucius; ‘you’re always doing that sort of thing. I’ll go for a change.’
 
‘No, lemme go,’ protested Ephraim. ‘What’s the use er runnin’ yerself inter danger ’thout any reason?’‘’The danger is the same for you as for me,’ retorted Lucius. ‘I tell you I am going.’
 
‘Then we’ll both go,’ said Ephraim decidedly, and accordingly they went.
 
Cautiously approaching the window, they peeped in and surveyed the cabin. To their great relief it was empty; but before Lucius knew what he was about, Ephraim stole quietly round the hut and surveyed the open space.
 
‘It’s all cl’ar, Luce,’ he said in a tone of satisfaction. ‘I don’t see nary a Yank. They’re not fur orf, though, fer the camp is jest beyond the woods thar.’
 
‘Then shall we go in here?’ asked Lucius. ‘You think that is the best thing to do?’
 
‘I reckon,’ returned Ephraim laconically34, and slipped in through the window by way of illustration. ‘By time!’ he exclaimed when he was fairly in, ‘thar’s been some one in hyar sence we made tracks out er it.’
 
‘How do you know?’ inquired Lucius, scrambling35 in to join him.
 
‘Why, all the food is gone,’ sighed Ephraim, pointing to the table with a sigh. ‘I war looking forward ter a fresh supply er them crackers36 after all this runnin’ around.’
 
‘I’ve got plenty here,’ said Lucius, slapping his pockets; ‘and you’ve got the ham.’
 
‘It won’t do ter gobble up thet jest yet, Luce,’ explained cautious Ephraim. ‘Ye kin hev jest wan20 slice ef ye’re sharp set, but we must keep some fer ter-night in case we run dry.’
 
‘No, I’m not very hungry,’ answered Lucius; ‘but 138I’ve turned most unaccountably sleepy all of a sudden.’
 
‘Nuthin’ onaccountable about thet,’ said Ephraim, ‘seein’ ye never went ter bed at all last night, and hev been up all ter-day. Lie down in the corner and take a snooze. I’ll look after things.’
 
‘Why,’ asked Lucius, surprised, ‘aren’t you sleepy, too? You said you were just now.’
 
‘Ez ter thet,’ responded Ephraim, ‘I kin hold old man Nod orf a bit yit, I reckon. It’ll maybe suit better ef we don’t go ter sleep at the same time.’
 
‘I see,’ said Lucius with a huge yawn. ‘Well then, you lie down, and I’ll take the first watch.’
 
‘Shucks!’ ejaculated Ephraim. ‘What does it matter? Ye air half over already. Go ter sleep. I’ll git my allowance by-and-by.’
 
‘But,’ began Lucius drowsily37, ‘you always do everything. I—I—don’t see—why’——. He mumbled38 on for a second or two, nodded heavily, started into semi-wakefulness, nodded again, and rolled over fast asleep.
 
Ephraim looked down at him with an expression in which tenderness for his friend and self-reproach were blended. ‘Pore Luce,’ he murmured, ‘ye air jest nat’ally tuckered out. I wish I hadn’t been sech a or’nery fool with my notions. I’d give suthin’ ter see ye back agen safe and sound in the old home et Staunton. Pray God I’ll git ye thar yit, though.
 
He stole to the door, and going outside, planted himself with his back against the logs of the cabin, so that he could command a view of all approaches by the front or sides. For he rightly judged that 139only skulkers would be likely to enter by the window, and for them he did not care.
 
‘“Carry me back to old Virginny,”’ he hummed softly to himself, as he glanced up and down; up to where he knew the Federal camp lay concealed39 behind the bend of the woods; down to where, though he could not see them either, he knew that the Confederates were still standing40 to arms, expecting a fresh attack on the part of Shields, and wondering why it never came. But Shields was too astute41. It was as if he had heard the remark made by Jackson to his chief of staff, when the latter expressed the opinion that Shields would make a more
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