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HOME > Classical Novels > The Blue Balloon > CHAPTER X.HOW THAT DESPATCH WAS INTERCEPTED.
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CHAPTER X.HOW THAT DESPATCH WAS INTERCEPTED.
 Halt! Who comes thar?’ repeated Ephraim, as the civilian1 paused, regarding him with an expression of supreme2 astonishment3.  
There was reason for the stranger’s amazement4. He had moored5 his boat well above the chain of sentries6—a good quarter of a mile, indeed—for no attack could be expected from the river, and naturally none could come from the north below Lewiston, and therefore only the sentries whom Ephraim and Lucius had scared had been posted in the former place, and none at all in the latter.
 
Consequently the civilian was puzzled. His first thought was, that he had struck a point too low down for his boat; his second, that he remembered every detail of the appearance of the spot, and that he could not possibly be mistaken. However, when, for the third time, the peremptory7 challenge sounded in his ears, he put as good a face as he could upon the matter, and answered distinctly and with confidence, ‘Friend!’
 
‘Advance, friend, and give the countersign8,’ ordered Ephraim, to the huge delight of Lucius, with whom he had many a time and oft rehearsed just such a scene in the workshop, little imagining it would ever be carried out in actual practice. The stranger advanced till the point of Ephraim’s bayonet was within six inches of his chest.
 
‘Halt!’ cried Ephraim once more. ‘That’s close enough. Now stand and give the countersign.’
 
The civilian hesitated an instant. He could not tell where the suggestion came from, but somehow the thought flashed into his brain that all was not as it should be. ‘Potomac,’ he answered steadily9.
 
Ephraim saw the momentary10 hesitation11, and read it aright. His own danger made him alert. ‘Go back the way you came,’ he said, keeping his rifle at the charge.’ That ain’t the word.’
 
It was a bold move, but it told; and the Grizzly12, to his own relief, noticed the expression of mingled13 surprise and satisfaction on the stranger’s face.
 
‘Shenandoah,’ said the civilian. ‘Will that suit you?’
 
‘That’s better,’ answered Ephraim, but without shouldering arms. ‘Why did you give me the wrong one fust?’
 
‘I—I was thinking of yesterday,’ replied the stranger rather confusedly.
 
‘Ah!’ retorted Ephraim drily. ‘Waal, I’m put hyar tew think on to-day. What d’ye want?’
 
‘What do I want, you fool?’ replied the man angrily. ‘Why, I want to pass, of course. Shoulder arms.’
 
‘Who air yew15 orderin’ about?’ snapped Ephraim. 150‘And yew keep a civil tongue in yewr head, mister. Don’t yew be so ready tew call names.’
 
‘Well, I didn’t mean that,’ said the stranger, wishful to conciliate him. ‘I was anxious to pass, that is all. I am sorry. Let me pass, please, for I am in a hurry.’
 
‘Hurry or no hurry,’ returned Ephraim stolidly16, ‘ye don’t pass hyar. Go back, or I’ll run ye through.’
 
He looked so fierce as he said it, that the stranger actually did recoil17 a pace or two. But he recovered himself instantly, and said smoothly18:
 
‘Look here, my good friend, what is your objection to letting me pass? I gave you the word.’
 
‘But yew gave me the wrong one to start with,’ answered Ephraim, glowering19 at him.
 
The stranger bit his lip. He saw he had made a mistake, and, in endeavouring to explain it, he appeared to offend the sentry20 still further.
 
‘I said it in jest—to try you—to see if you were a smart fellow,’ he said, with a little laugh.
 
‘Oh, did yew?’ Ephraim frowned upon him. ‘Waal, yew’ll find I’m smart enuff fer the like of yew, I guess. Quit now. I ain’t got no time or inclernashun fer more fooling.’
 
‘Nor I, either,’ answered the civilian haughtily21. ‘So let me pass at once—or’——
 
‘Or what?’
 
‘Or I’ll report you.’
 
‘Yew’ll report me!’ sneered22 Ephraim, advancing upon the man until the ugly-looking bayonet just touched his coat. ‘I tell yew, ef yew ain’t out of that afore I count ten, thar won’t be much left of yew to report. Quit, I say.’
 
The civilian made another backward step. ‘Look 151here, sentry,’ he said, ‘this is getting beyond a joke. I tell you, I have important business, and I must pass. I’ve given you the word, and that gives me the right. Come, now,’ he wheedled23; ‘don’t be obstinate24.’
 
‘And I’ve the right, and, what’s more, it’s my duty tew stop any one I consider a suspishus character, word or no word,’ replied Ephraim. ‘Yew come here, a soldier dressed up ez a civilian; yew gimme fust the wrong word, and then the right word; and then yew try tew git round me tew let yew pass. I say yew shan’t pass.’
 
The man started during Ephraim’s speech. ‘How do you know that I am a soldier?’ he asked.
 
‘By the set of yewr shoulders and yewr walk,’ replied Ephraim. ‘Any one could see ez much ez that.’
 
‘Then, perhaps, you know who I am as well?’
 
‘No, I don’t; but I guess I have a fairly good notion what yew air ez well.’
 
‘And what may that be?’
 
‘A spy,’ answered Ephraim gloomily. ‘I don’t know but what I orter run yew through whar yew stand ef I done right. But I’ll give yew one more chance. Quit, or take the consequences.’
 
‘Look here,’ said the man suddenly. ‘I know you are only doing your duty according to your lights; but if you knew everything, you’d find you were rather exceeding it. I tell you what, I am all right. There’s nothing wrong about me. I don’t want a fuss, or to lose time. Here are ten dollars for your trouble. Now stand aside.’
 
‘Thet’s enough!’ replied Ephraim. ‘Thet about sizes yew, I should say. Now, I’ll not only not let yew pass, but I’ll detain yew hyar till the rounds comes along. Yew’re my prisoner.’
 
The man looked this way and that, flushing and paling with rage. ‘You time-honoured thickhead!’ he cried at last. ‘I’ll tell you who I am, and then maybe you’ll alter your mind. I’m Captain Hopkins of the “—— Massachusetts.”’
 
‘Ho!’ drawled Ephraim. ‘Fust yew’re a civilian, and then yew’re a soldier, and naow yew’re a capting. Waal, I han’t altered my mind. I guess ef yew kin14 bluff25, why, so kin I.’
 
‘Very much better than the captain can,’ thought Lucius in his hiding-place.
 
‘Let me pass, or take the consequences,’ cried the captain, and quick as thought he drew a revolver and presented it at Ephraim.
 
Like lightning the glancing bayonet swept upwards26, met the dull blue tube with a clank, and away went the captain’s weapon ten feet into the air behind Ephraim, splash into the river.
 
‘Yew see,’ drawled Ephraim. ‘I guess I didn’t come down in the last shower of green mud.’
 
‘Confound you!’ said the captain, laughing in spite of his evident vexation. ‘You are too smart. I see that I shall have to tell you everything. Pay attention to what I say now, and hold your tongue about it when you get back to camp.—By the way,’ he broke off, ‘why didn’t you run in with the rest of them just now, when there was that scare?’
 
‘Ef I war to go runnin’ fer the camp every time thar war a skeer ter-day, I’d never be done,’ answered Ephraim. ‘My post is hyar, and hyar I mean tew stay. What’s this yew want tew tell me?’
 
‘Simply this,’ replied the captain. ‘Mind now, hold your tongue. I am the bearer of despatches from General Shields to General Frémont.’
 
Ephraim’s face was a study. He shou............
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