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HOME > Classical Novels > The Blue Balloon > CHAPTER XIV.GRIZZLY IN THE TOILS.
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 CHAPTER XIV.GRIZZLY1 IN THE TOILS2.phraim was not long in following out his own recommendation to Lucius, but unfortunately, instead of bearing away to the left, he took a straighter line, and before he had gone fifty yards, found himself surrounded by a dozen men, who had approached the scene of conflict with more caution and less noise than their fellow-soldiers. The Grizzly, indeed, was among them before he was aware of their presence, and ere he could attempt to resist or break through the circle, was firmly seized and held fast.  
‘I guess we’ve got some one,’ said a rough voice. ‘Who may yew3 be, and whar air yew running to?’
Ephraim did not answer at once. His first thoughts, as usual, were of Lucius, and he was listening intently for any sign which might indicate his capture. Presently he heard the boy’s voice shouting misleading directions as he practised his simple ruse4 de guerre, and once more at rest upon this point, gave attention to the question, which was now repeated in a more peremptory5 tone.
‘Waal,’ answered Ephraim slowly, feeling, as it were, for his words, ‘I heard a fuss, and I was runnin’ to see what the trouble was.’
‘I reckon yew must have an outrageous6 fine bump of locality,’ said another man sneeringly7, ‘seeing that yew’re making tracks in a teetotally wrong direction.—Hi! Pete, hurry up with the lantern, and let’s have a look at this coon.’
‘Ef I don’t keep a level head,’ thought Ephraim, as he heard this, ‘I’m a goner, shore. Waal, it don’t matter much, ez long ez Luce is safe, and I reckon he is, so fur, fer I don’t hear any row.—Oh! Ugh!’
The expression of pain was wrung9 from him as the grasp of one of his captors tightened10 upon his wounded shoulder.
‘What’s the matter with yew?’ inquired the man. ‘My land! My hand is all wet. So’s his shoulder. Quick with the light! Why, it’s blood! I guess, corporal, he war running from the trouble, not towards it. No wonder he war in sech a hurry.’
The corporal stepped up and examined Ephraim’s torn coat and lacerated shoulder by the light of the lantern.
‘Humph!’ he ejaculated. ‘A nasty rake, and a fresh wound, too. How did you come by this?’
‘I reckon something must hev struck me,’ returned Ephraim, as though he were now receiving news of his wound for the first time. ‘Thar’s sech a heap er things flying around these days, ye can’t tell whar they come from or whar they go ter.’
‘This is no bullet wound, though,’ said the corporal, examining it again. ‘It’s been done by a bayonet.—Come, you, tell us what happened. Did you meet the Reb?’ For he noted11 that Ephraim was clad in the Federal blue.
‘I ’magine it must hev been suthin’ er thet sort,’ replied Ephraim cautiously. ‘Ennyway, I run up agin suthin’ or somebody, and thet’s the fact.’
‘Where did it happen?’ asked the corporal.
‘Somewhar round. It mought hev been hyar and it mought hev been thar. I can’t ezackly say.’
‘Did your assailant bolt after wounding you?’ was the corporal’s next question.
‘I didn’t stop ter see,’ began Ephraim, when a loud shout close by announced that the question had received a practical answer by the discovery of the body of Sergeant12 Mason.
‘Hi! Help!’ shouted a voice. ‘Thar’s a dead soldier over hyar. No, he ain’t dead; but he’s got it pretty bad. Help!’
The corporal rushed in the direction of the hail, and the soldiers hurried Ephraim after him. Presently they came to the scene of the late scrimmage, where the sergeant still lay upon his back, moaning faintly.
‘Why, if it isn’t Sergeant Mason!’ cried the corporal, bending over the prostrate13 man.—‘Did you do this?’ he demanded fiercely, straightening up and facing Ephraim.
The Grizzly recognised that further concealment14 was useless, so he answered firmly: ‘It war in fair fight, corporal. I reckon ef it hadn’t been him lyin’ thar, it would hev been me, so maybe it’s ez well ez it is.’
‘Then I guess you’re the man we want,’ cried the corporal.—‘Boys, this is the pesky Secesh, what’s given so much trouble to-day, going round in Federal uniform. I bet it is.—We’ve got you now, Johnny 226Reb, so you may as well own up. Who are you, any how?’
‘I reckon you make me tired with your questions,’ answered Ephraim. ‘I shan’t answer no more. Ye ain’t the provost-marshal, air ye?’
‘Ho! if it’s him you want to see,’ mocked the corporal, ‘I guess we won’t be long gratifying your desires.—Hey, boys?’
A low muttering among the men swelled15 suddenly into a shout, and there was an ugly rush in the direction of Ephraim. The corporal threw himself in the way of it.
‘No, no, boys,’ he cried. ‘I guess his time is short enough without your cutting it shorter. Besides, fair’s fair, and the fellow that could get the best of Sergeant Mason in a tussle16 must be a stark17 fighter and a pretty average kind of a man. Let him take his chance with the provost-marshal. I reckon it’s his business, not ours.’
The men, appealed to in this soldierly fashion, fell back, and at the corporal’s direction four of them raised the fallen Sergeant Mason and started for the camp, bearing him between them.
‘Now, you,’ said the corporal, ‘since you’re in such a hurry, step out, and we’ll call on your friend the provost-marshal. I shouldn’t wonder if he was waiting up to receive you.—Fetch him along, boys.’
‘Corporal,’ asked the Grizzly in a weak voice, ’ kin8 I hev a drink er water? I’——The words failed on his lips, he staggered and would have fallen, but for the supporting arms of the two men who held him.
‘My land!’ exclaimed the corporal. ‘I’d forgotten 227his wound. Lay him down on the ground.—Hyar, drink this. We may be Yankees, Johnny Reb; but we are not brutes18 by a good deal.’ He held his canteen to Ephraim’s lips, and when the latter had satisfied his thirst, rapidly cut away his coat and made a fresh examination of the wound.
‘There,’ he said, arranging his own handkerchief as a pad over the gash19, and binding20 it in its place with another which one of the men handed to him—‘you’ll do now till the surgeon can get his paws on you. It’s only a scratch, though it’s a pretty deep one. Feel better?’
‘I’m obleeged ter ye,’ said Grizzly, sitting up. ‘I’m all right agen now. It war water I wanted.—No,’ as he rose to his feet, ‘ye needn’t carry me. I kin walk well enuff.’
‘Are you sure?’ demurred21 the corporal, who was prepossessed in Ephraim’s favour on account of his prowess in having overthrown23 such a mighty24 man of valour as Sergeant Mason. ‘It’ll be easy enough to have you carried.’
‘I’ll walk while I kin walk,’ returned Ephraim with grim humour. ‘Ye kin carry me after the shootin’. Or I reckon it’s hangin’ when ye’re ketched spyin’ around; ain’t it?’
‘I’m afraid it is,’ answered the corporal as they moved along. ‘And I wish it wasn’t, for you’re a brave man, and I’d sooner see you with an ounce of lead in your brain than dangling25 at the end of a rope.’
‘That’s real kind of you, corporal,’ said Ephraim. ‘The selection is very ch’ice; but I ’low the result won’t make much difference ter me.’
The corporal seemed to feel the force of this, for he made no reply, and they continued their way in silence until the groups of smouldering bivouac fires showed that they had reached the outer line of the camp. Passing through the long rows of slumbering26 soldiers, they came at last to the guard tent, and here the corporal, on making inquiries27, was referred to the officer of the day, who in his turn directed them to the provost-marshal.
They found that this dreaded28 functionary29 had left word that, in the event of the capture of the spy, he was to be awakened30 at once, no matter what the hour; but as a matter of fact he arrived upon the scene in a very bad humour, for after waiting up till considerably31 past midnight, he had thought that he might safely turn in, and now his first sweet, refreshing32 sleep had been rudely broken. That this was due to the strictness of his own orders did not tend to soothe33 him, for there was nobody to shift the blame upon, and to be reduced to grumbling34 at one’s self is a state that offers little consolation35. Yes, there was some one, though, upon whom the vials of his wrath36 might be legitimately37 emptied, and the provost-marshal determined38 that the spy—if spy he really proved to be—should have nothing to complain of on the score of undue39 leniency40.
‘Bring that prisoner in here,’ he said, appearing at the entrance to his tent.—‘Now, corporal, is this the spy?’
‘Can’t say, sir,’ answered the corporal; ‘but I shouldn’t wonder if it were. I captured him as he was attempting to escape after clubbing Sergeant Mason.’
229The provost-marshal, who had seated himself at a small table with a note-book before him and a pencil in his hand, looked up in surprise at this. ‘Do I understand you to say,’ he asked, ‘that this weedy creature actually got the best of Sergeant Mason?’
‘It’s a fact, sir,’ replied the corporal. ‘Mason has got a crack on the head that will keep him quiet this long time. Of course I didn’t see the fight myself, but this fellow here don’t deny that he is the man, and he has a bayonet wound in the shoulder to speak for the truth of what he says.’
‘Humph!’ muttered the provost-marshal. ‘I shouldn’t have thought it possible. Well, I’ll question him.—By the way, corporal, did you hear or see anything of those other two fellows?’
‘No, sir,’ answered the corporal, understanding the reference; ‘but I heard, sir, that Colonel Spriggs was still out on the hunt for them.’
The provost-marshal’s moustache was slightly agitated42. So grim a person could not be expected to smile; but his amused thought was evidently: ‘Spriggs will take precious good care not to return to camp until Jackson moves from Port Republic, or we move from here.’
For Ephraim, too, the announcement had a special interest, for it showed him that his identity with one of the escaped aeronauts was not, so far, suspected, and hence the provost-marshal could have no idea that any one else had been concerned in the affair of the despatch43. Lucius, he hoped, was by this time out of harm’s way; but at all events Spriggs was not there to complicate44 matters by referring to him. The Grizzly was quite prepared to take the onus45 of the theft of 230the despatch upon his own shoulders, and he awaited calmly the discovery of the packet. Casting his eyes downwards46 to his cartridge47 pouch48, he saw with some slight surprise that the flap was unfastened. He had been very particular about the fastening, lest by any chance the papers should be lost, and he wondered whether it had come undone49 during his combat with Sergeant Mason. He was roused from his
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