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    Chapter 5

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    Chapter 6
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    TWO FLAGS OF TRUCE

    The first battle, if such it might be called, had been fought and won. Four of the guerillas had been put out of the contest, one forever, and one had escaped to the mansion. The contest had been entirely one-sided, for the ruffians had not had time left to them in which to fire so much as a single charge.

    But though the present victory had been gained quickly and with ease, Deck knew that the work still cut out for himself and his command would prove much more difficult and dangerous. The guerillas in the mansion would be on a close watch, and it would go hard with any one imprudent enough to advance within reasonable shooting distance.

    By the time the major had gained the fort those intrusted with the work of making a demonstration had returned to the shelter of the stone walls. No injury had been done, and Artie and the overseer had had their hands full in keeping the slaves from rushing directly for the mansion regardless of consequences, especially when it was noted that four men had gone down in the vicinity of the barn.

    "Fifteen still left," mused Levi, when Deck had spoken. "We can go them one better, but--"

    "It makes a big difference where the fifteen men are located," said Artie. "Five might hold the mansion against us--if they were good shots and wide-awake."

    "If only I knew mother and the girls were safe, I would play them a waiting game," said Deck, taking a long breath. "They'll think we have sent for reënforcements and will want to make terms, sooner or later."

    "We can send off for reënforcements!" cried Artie. "Clinker can rouse out every Unionist within two miles of here."

    "He would not find many," answered Levi. "The majority are off to the war."

    "One thing, it will be dark soon," went on Deck. "We can move up pretty close then, for there won't be much moonlight."

    "But what of mother and the girls in the meantime?" questioned the young captain.

    "I don't believe they will dare harm them," said the overseer. "They know that if they did, and were caught, every one of 'em would swing for it. Denny may try to get a bit sweet on Miss Dorcas, but I reckon she can hold her own. Those guerillas--"

    "Hark!" interrupted Deck. "Somebody is screaming for help! It is Dorcas!"

    He rushed to the door of the fort, followed by Levi and Artie. It was Dorcas, true enough. The girl had just come out on the mansion porch and was trying to get away from a guerilla who held her.

    "That is Gaffy Denny!" ejaculated the major, drawing his pistol once more. "Hi, you rascal, leave her alone!" and regardless of consequences he started across the meadow for the lawn fronting the porch.

    "Deck, save me!" came in faint tones from Dorcas. "Oh, save me!"

    "I will!" was the reply. And Deck increased his speed, bounding over the meadow trenches with an agility that would have done credit to a trained athlete. He had barely gained the lawn when Dorcas broke from Gaffy Denny's grasp and fled down the porch steps toward him. At the same time Hope appeared, followed by Mrs. Lyon and several guerillas who had been in the act of transferring the lady prisoners from one room of the mansion to the other.

    The sight of his mother pursued by these ruffians excited Deck to the highest degree, and without a thought of the danger he continued on his course until within a hundred feet of the porch. Then he fired at Gaffy Denny and saw the guerilla clap his left hand over his right shoulder, showing that he had been struck. Denny had scarcely made the movement when Levi Bedford fired and the temporary leader of the guerillas pitched headlong on the grass, not to rise again.

    The fall of Denny caused the men behind him to pause, and as they stood on the porch Artie opened on them and another fellow was slightly wounded. Then came half a dozen gun and pistol reports, and Deck felt himself hit across the left side of the neck. The bullet left nothing more than an ugly scratch, from which the blood flowed freely.

    But now the prisoners from the mansion had come up to their would-be rescuers, and catching sight of the blood, Hope fainted in Artie's arms. Mrs. Lyon staggered toward Deck, while Levi caught Dorcas by the hand.

    "My son, you are wounded," gasped the mother. "Oh, what shall we do?"

    "It's not much, mother," answered Deck. "Come, give me your arm and we'll get back to the fort," and catching hold of his parent he urged her in the direction of the meadow. At the same time Artie caught up Hope and followed, with Levi and Dorcas by his side.

    The overseer was the only man of the party who was not handicapped, for the major did not dare let go of his mother for fear she would sink down. Levi turned quickly, and as the men on the porch prepared to fire, pulled trigger twice, wounding one additional guerilla.

    But now came a volley from the mansion windows, and the overseer was struck in the arm. A second volley was about to follow, when a yell arose from the meadow and the slaves under Clinker came on, shooting as well as they could on the run. The windows of the mansion, now wide open, received considerable attention, and two guerillas were noted to fall back with yells of either fright or pain.

    Deck got one more chance to fire, and then had to turn all of his attention to his mother, who was so out of breath she could no longer move. "My brave boy, save yourself!" she gasped. "Save yourself! And save Hope and Dorcas!"

    "I won't leave you, mother dear," he returned tenderly, and picked her up despite her protests. He was soon following Artie to the fort, with Dorcas running by his side, while Levi remained behind to take command of the slaves and cover the retreat. From around the back of the meadow came those left by the major at the barn, thinking a regular attack on the mansion had been made.

    Mrs. Noah Lyon was no light load, and when Deck gained the shelter of the fort he was ready to drop with his burden. Finding the most comfortable seat the place afforded, he deposited his precious load upon it and fanned her with his soldier cap. Hope was just reviving and was soon able to take care of herself.

    "Oh, how thankful I am we have escaped from those ruffians!" cried Dorcas, almost ready to cry in her excitement. Then she knelt down in front of her aunt--that aunt who had for years been a mother to her. Hope joined the group, and tears flowed down every feminine cheek.

    "Keep watch here, Artie!" called out Deck, when he saw that all was well for the time being, and as the young captain nodded, the major leaped out into the open once more. The battle between those in the mansion and those on the edge of the lawn was waxing hot, and he felt that he was needed.

    A great load was lifted from his mind, now he knew his mother and the girls were safe, and he felt that he could endure almost anything. Taking a short cut by leaping over a ditch some ten feet wide, he came up in front of Carson Lee and the others from the barn. Lee had already been firing, at long range, and the man subject to fits declared he had dropped one guerilla stationed at an attic window.

    "It is best that we divide our forces," said Deck. "Levi can take care of those under him. We will take the opposite side of the house. There are two magnolias over there--just the spot for such a sharpshooter as you, Lee."

    "Co-rect, lead on and I'll follow," answered Carson Lee, with a grin, for nothing pleased him more than to have his marksmanship praised. Soon the entire party was making another detour, while Levi's men fell back gradually to a safe position in a dry trench near the centre of the meadow--a trench begun in the spring but never connected with the creek.

    When the major's party reached the magnolias, Lee and another of the farmers climbed into the branches, taking care, however, to keep the main trunks of the trees between themselves and the mansion. The others collected underneath, also, on the sheltered sides.

    "Levi and the niggers have fallen back to a ditch in the meadow," announced Lee, a minute later. "All the guerillas have gone into the house."

    "An' there ain't a head to be seen at the winders," finished Dowleigh, the other man in the tree. "Reckon they have gone in fer a parley among themselves."

    "We have them where the hair is good and long now," said Deck, smiling. "Not one of them can leave the house without being seen."

    "How about to-night, Major?" laughed Bowman.

    "As soon as it gets dark we can draw closer, and throw a guard completely around the place. But I imagine we'll hear from them before that--now the ladies have escaped."

    "How so?" asked Bowman, with interest.

    "As long as they held the ladies they thought they could make terms when they pleased. Now, the case is different, and, in my opinion, they will try to make terms before we have a chance to send for aid with which to wipe them out, as the saying goes."

    "Don't ye make no terms," burst in Carson Lee. "They don't deserve 'em."

    "We'll see what they have to say, if they do come out," concluded the major.

    The best part of half an hour passed, and during that time everybody placed his weapon in proper fighting trim again. Lee took one shot at a face which appeared at a bedroom window and received a shot in return, but neither took effect. Evidently the guerillas were on the alert.

    "I told you so!" Deck felt like saying, when the side door of the mansion opened and a man waved a white towel toward them. But the major remained silent, and the man advanced cautiously to the edge of the veranda. Then the young commander waved his handkerchief in return, and marched up the lawn to interview the ruffian with the flag of truce.

    The fellow was an ugly looking customer, over six feet tall, thin, and with a face horribly pox-marked. He came swaggering up to within five yards of Deck and halted.

    "Say, don't yer think this game has been played long enough?" he grunted rather than asked.

    "Entirely too long," answered Deck, briefly. He had not yet forgotten the manner in which he had been addressed at the barn.

    "We-uns is ready ter make terms if yer don't ask the earth," continued the tall guerilla, swinging his lanky arms into a fold. "Wot do yer say to it?"

    "I think you had better make terms."

    "Oh, we ain't so terribully skeered, Major. But makin' terms might suit better all around, thet's all."

    "Well, what do you propose?"

    "This. You-uns let us withdraw on our hosses to the road an' give us half a mile start, an' we-uns will leave everything in the house jest as we found it."

    "And if I refuse?"

    "Then we'll burn the hull shebang to the ground and take wot comes arfterward," exclaimed the guerilla, vehemently, and added an expression I would not care to transcribe to these pages.

    "Do you know what will come?"

    "A fight most likely," and the guerilla shrugged his bony shoulders.

    "Yes, and a heavy one, if our reënforcements arrive in time. And as commander here I'll promise you that if you harm the house or its contents in the least, every man captured shall be hung to yonder trees as an incendiary and thief."

    "Ye can't do thet--not to Confed'rit sodgers, Major."

    "I don't recognize you as Confederates. You are simply outlaws."

    "'Tain't so; we--" The guerilla paused and began to think of the instructions which had been given him. "Wot kind o' terms air you calkerlatin' ter make, Major?" he asked, in a milder tone.

    "I want all in the house to surrender, and if you do I'll simply hand you over to the county authorities and they can do with you as they think best. But each of you must swear to leave Riverlawn alone in the future."

    "The boys won't agree on thet--I know they won't."

    "They can do as they please; you have my terms," returned Deck, curtly.

    "Yer won't treat us as simple prisoners o' war?"

    "No; for such you are not. Neither your captain nor your lieutenant holds a commission signed by the Confederate authorities."

    The guerilla paused as if to say more. Then tossing his shaggy head he walked back to the mansion, while Deck joined his command at the magnolias.

    "Bowman, you can do a big thing for me if you will," he said, calling the farmer aside, and he explained a little ruse which had just popped into his head. The scheme made Bowman laugh heartily, and he at once departed to carry it out, taking one of the negroes with him.

    It was just growing dusk when the farmer reached the vicinity of the creek bridge. Calling on Woolly, the negro, to march by his side, he quickly crossed the roadway, in plain sight of the mansion. He passed from one thicket to another, and as soon as he was out of sight turned back and went through the same performance again. This he repeated a score of times, sometimes going alone and again with Woolly. This accomplished, he told the negro to move down the creek and show himself at half a dozen different places just as quickly as the act could be performed, he at the same time doing as much in the opposite direction. Sometimes the pair showed themselves with their coats, sometimes without, and they knocked their head coverings into all sorts of shapes.

    The ruse succeeded admirably, for even Levi, at the fort, was led to believe a dozen or more armed men had just arrived, and he was for a while considerably worried, thinking they might possibly be reënforcements for the enemy. Bowman's appearance opposite Fort Bedford cleared up the matter, and the farmer came over to give the overseer the particulars, thereby risking a shot which, fortunately, proved harmless.

    "It certainly ought to bring them to terms," said Levi. "I'll wager they will be out with another flag in less than a quarter of an hour."

    Had a bet been made the overseer would have won by five minutes, for exactly ten minutes later another flag of truce was shown, and a second messenger sallied forth to make terms with Major Deck.
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