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    Chapter 4

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    Chapter 5
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    A FIRST VICTORY OVER THE ENEMY

    It may be asked why a rush was not made upon the mansion and barns, instead of the stealthy advance now under way. The answer to this is, Deck and the others knew that the force to be encountered was larger than their own, and probably just as well, if not better, armed. Moreover, the young major felt that some of the guerillas must be on the lookout from the mansion, and an advance across the lawn in front and to one side, or the meadow to the rear and the other side, could only have been accomplished after a serious loss of life. The guerillas of Kentucky were for the most part "dead-shots," and the youthful commander was not inclined to risk his men in the open against their superior numbers.

    The creek at the point where the raft had been moored was between sixty and seventy feet wide, consequently the journey to the other side did not occupy over five minutes, even though the raft was an unwieldy thing to handle. As soon as they were near enough to do so, all hands leaped into the meadow grass, and started on a rush for Fort Bedford.

    Bang! bang! bang! The three shots in rapid succession came from the rear of the largest barn, and Deck felt something rush through his cap and his hair beneath. A groan came from Clinker, who was struck in the side. The negro staggered but kept on, his eyes rolling and staring from a pain that was new to him.

    "'Tain't much, I reckon," he panted, in reply to Levi Bedford's question. "Anybuddy else hit?"

    Nobody was, and without halting to return the fire they pressed on. Soon they were under the shelter of the ice-house, as dark and silent as the rest of the plantation had previously appeared.

    "I left it locked up," explained Levi Bedford, when Artie gave a cry as he caught sight of the door. The heavy slabs of wood had been smashed in with a stout log used as a battering-ram, and a hasty search revealed the fact that the arms and ammunition, the overseer had mentioned, had been carried away.

    As the party passed into the building several more shots were fired at them, but the bullets merely found resting-places in the woodwork or flattened themselves on the stone walls. Levi Bedford now saw one of the shooters near the edge of the barn and fired his rifle, but whether or not the shot took effect he could not ascertain.

    "Well, we are here," said Artie, after Clinker's wound had been examined and dressed. "The question is, what's next?"

    Deck silently counted their forces again. As General was absent, they numbered but eight including himself. He shook his head seriously.

    "We are but eight, and if that captured rascal is to be believed they have three times that number," he said.

    "But our other negroes must be around somewhere," said Artie, "and they'll need some men to guard the women folks,--unless they have locked them up,--or--or--"

    "Or done away with them," finished Deck, bitterly. "For myself, I am ready to make a dash forward, be the consequence what it may. But I can't ask it of you and the slaves," and he turned to the overseer.

    "I'll do whatever you think best, Major," responded Levi, warmly. "But supposing I go out with a flag of truce and learn what they have to say?"

    "Hadn't I better go along?" asked Deck, eagerly.

    "If you wish--yes."

    A handkerchief was soon tied to a stick, and, leaving Artie in command of the armed slaves, the young major and the overseer sallied forth, waving the flag of truce over their heads. They started toward the mansion, but before half the distance was covered a loud and rough voice from the barn called upon them to halt, and they halted.

    "Come this way with thet rag!" was the next order. "If ye go to the house we'll open fire on ye!"

    As there seemed no help for it, Deck and Levi turned toward the barn. While still a hundred feet from the building they were ordered to halt again, and then a man in gray, wearing a tangled beard of black, with matted hair to match, came forth to greet them.

    "Well?" he demanded laconically, as the major and the overseer paused.

    "Dan Wolfall, what does this mean?" demanded Levi, recognizing the individual as a former citizen of Barcreek, and one who had left "between two days" because of a horse stealing which had been laid at his door.

    Wolfall grinned, thereby showing a set of uneven yellow teeth, much the worse for constant tobacco chewing. "I reckon as how it means we-uns is in persession o' this yere plantation," he answered slowly, shifting his quid from one jaw to the other.

    "Whom do you mean by we-uns?" asked Deck.

    "Me an' the rest o' Captain Casswell's company o' Confederates, sonny. Say, you feel big in them sodger clothes, don't ye?" Wolfall asked, with another grin.

    "Do you know that you are liable to be shot down or hung as outlaws?" went on Deck.

    "Reckon we air jest as liable ter be shot down as Confed'rates, ain't we?"

    "Such men as you would be a disgrace even to the Confederacy, Wolfall," interposed Levi Bedford, his honest eyes flashing fire. "Years ago Duncan Lyon saved you from a long term in prison, and this is how you reward his brother and his nephews."

    "Don't preach, Bedford, I ain't ust to hearin' on it. Times is changed, an' if the Lyonses is gwine to take a stand ag'in the best interests o' this State, why they hev got to take the consequences, thet's all."

    "Kentucky has declared for the Union and we are on the right side," said Deck. "Let us come to an understanding of the situation. What have you done with my mother and my two sisters?"

    "I reckon Leftenant Denny has 'em safe, sonny. Them's nice clothes, sonny, but a gray suit would look a heap sight better."

    "Are they still at the mansion?"

    "They air onless the leftenant has took 'em away."

    "What do you propose to do here?"

    "Enjoy ourselves, sonny."

    "Which means that you are going to confiscate all our stores and steal our valuables."

    "As you please, sonny. If yer come only to abuse such gents as we air, better be gittin' back, sonny," and now the Kentucky guerilla tapped his horse pistol significantly.

    "How many are there of you?" went on Deck, hardly able to resist keeping his hands from the ruffian.

    "Twict as many as half, sonny. Is that all ye want ter know?"

    "I see you are not inclined to meet me fairly," continued Deck, sternly. "I order you to leave this place at once."

    "Ain't obeyin' orders jest now, sonny."

    "Very well; then you and your comrades in this raid must take the consequences if you are captured. Moreover, my men and I will shoot you down like dogs if we get the chance," and Deck turned back, followed by Levi.

    "Thet shootin' won't be all one-sided!" called the guerilla after the pair, and disappeared into the barn.

    When the major and the overseer returned to Fort Bedford, Artie wished to know immediately what had been accomplished.

    "Nothing," answered Deck, his face clouded in perplexing thoughts. He was almost "stumped," although he did not care to admit it.

    A shout was now heard along the creek, and looking from the fort those within saw five colored men standing at the clearing. They were the slaves that had followed the first detachment to Lyndhall. With the colored men were three whites, farmers living in the vicinity who had called at Lyndhall on business and who had been persuaded by Margie and Kate to join in the defence of Riverlawn.

    "Eight more guns," said Artie. "That gives us sixteen all told. Hang me, if I'm not in for making a rush!"

    Deck's face began to brighten. "Levi, how many men do you think are at the barn?"

    "I saw four looking from behind the doors," answered the overseer. "Those with Wolfall made five. I don't believe there were any more."

    "Then I'll tell you what I'll do," went on the young commander. "As secretly as I can, I'll recross the creek and join the men in the clearing. I'll bring them around to the meadow by the road, and along the berry bushes at the other side of the lawn. There will be nine of us, and as soon as we are in a position to attack the barn, I'll fire two shots in quick succession. Then you must make a demonstration against the house. But be careful that it doesn't cost you any lives."

    Both Levi and Artie were quick-witted enough to see the advantage of Deck's plan and readily agreed to it. Without the loss of a moment the major left the fort, crawling on his hands and knees through the grass to the creek.

    Here the canoe and the raft were found as they had been left. Detaching the boat from the logs, he leaped in, and crouching low, sculled for the opposite shore with all speed. He was taking a big risk and knew it, and expected every instant to receive a shot from the enemy.

    But none came, thanks to Levi, who, calculating the time he would be thus exposed, ran to the opening of the fort and called on several to do the same. As no good chance for an aim was given, the guerillas did not open with their guns, but they kept their eyes on the fort, and the creek was for the time being neglected.

    On reaching the edge of the clearing, Deck did not lose a moment, but hurried the slaves and the white men back to the road and to the bushes lining the upper side. As they marched along on the double quick he explained the situation to Ralph Bowman, Sandran Dowleigh, and Carson Lee, the three farmers, all natives of the county, and all Union men to the core.

    "They ought to be wiped out," said Bowman, with a vigorous nod of his head. "I know Wolfall and Denny well, and a rope over a tree is the medicine they need."

    "I've got my Long Sam with me," put in Carson Lee, tapping his long rifle affectionately. "Just let me get one peep at Denny or Wolfall, thet's all." Lee was a crack shot, and on more than one occasion had taken the first prize at target-shooting.

    It took the best part of a quarter of an hour to reach the meadow Deck had mentioned. Here there was a slight rise of ground, beyond which stood the barn. From their position only the top of the structure could be seen. Crawling Indian fashion to the top of the rise, the major inspected the situation again. As before, not a soul was in sight.

    Before moving forward he had stationed one of the slaves some distance closer to the mansion. The man was armed with a double-barrelled gun, and as Deck waved his handkerchief two reports rang out, the signal agreed upon. Hardly had the echo of the gun died away than Levi, Artie, and the others emerged from the fort, and began moving around the meadow toward the front of the house.

    The demonstration did just what was expected. Several men appeared at the mansion windows, to fire in vain at the detachment from the fort, they keeping pretty well out of range. From the barn poured the five guerillas counted by Levi, anxious to learn if their services were needed elsewhere.

    By this time Deck's command was at the top of the rise, and the major called on his men to take careful aim and fire, discharging his pistol at the same moment. Carson Lee picked out Wolfall and the ruffian dropped like a log, shot through the head. Two of the others went down, one hit in the arm and the other in the side. The two remaining stopped in perplexity, not knowing whether to return to their original shelter or run for the mansion.

    "Charge!" cried Major Deck, rushing for the barn with all the swiftness of his youthful legs. "Come on, boys; don't let one of them get away!" And he continued to fire as he advanced, finally succeeding in hitting one of the remaining pair of guerillas in the calf of the leg, a painful though not a serious wound. Seeing the turn of affairs, the last ruffian, also wounded, sped for the mansion as though a legion of demons were after him. Those who had reloaded gave the fellow half a dozen shots, but he was not hit again, and tumbled pell-mell up the veranda steps and through a doorway opened hastily to afford him entrance.

    "A first victory and without a single loss," said Deck, as sheltered by the big barn he began to reload his pistol, while the others also looked after their weapons.

    "Don't kill us!" came in a groan from one of the wounded--the man the major had hit.

    For reply Deck pointed his pistol at the ruffian's head. "You deserve to die, but I'll let up on you on one condition--tell me exactly how many men there are in the mansion."

    "I don't know, Major. There were twenty-two of us at the start, including the five we had here. I think three men were posted on the road and along the creek."

    "One man has returned to the house; the others are out of the fight," said Deck, turning to Lee. "That leaves exactly fifteen guerillas in the mansion. We number sixteen."

    "That's so; but they are well fortified," interposed Sandran Dowleigh, who had not gone to war because he was subject to fits, but who, nevertheless, took a lively interest in military matters. "They will mow us down like wheat if we dare to make a rush."

    "I will consult with Levi Bedford and Artie before we make another move. Keep your eyes open while I am gone," said the major, and moved off in a roundabout way for Fort Bedford.
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