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    Chapter 9

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    Chapter 10
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    MAJOR DECK LYON MAKES A PROMISE

    "They are coming, Major!" shouted Captain Abbey, as the Confederate leader forced his cavalry on the charge. "What had we best do?"

    "Draw--pistols!" shouted Deck, by way of an answer. "Give them a round as soon as they turn the bend."

    The command had hardly been given when the first company opened fire, followed by the second company, both wheeling to the left to let the other companies fire. By this time the Confederates were answering with their pistols; but, on account of their rapid riding, their aim was poor, and the shots did but little damage.

    The young major was a central figure in the combat, and more than one soldier in gray directed his fire at him. But he escaped unharmed, to find himself, two minutes later, faced by the Confederate leader, wearing the straps of a major also.

    The fellow was all of six feet tall, heavy-set, with a black mustache, and beady black eyes, that somehow put Deck in mind of a rattlesnake ready to strike. He came on, giving the Confederate yell heard so many times before, and to be heard so many times afterward--a yell no pen can describe, and one which arose, clear and full, above the clash of arms.

    "Down you go!" hissed the major in gray, as he advanced upon Deck with his sabre pointed, as if to run him through. His look was sufficient to paralyze any ordinary man; but Deck did not quail, having been confronted thus before. He spoke to Ceph, and the intelligent animal reared up, and came down on one side, and a sharp blow from Deck's weapon caused the Confederate's sabre to fly from his hand.

    The Confederate was astonished, almost dumfounded, for he had calculated that such a youthful commander would be "easy meat" for him. With another yell he swung his horse in a circle to avoid a second blow from Deck, and then, pulling his pistol, aimed it at our friend's head.

    But Lieutenant Fronklyn was in a line directly behind Deck, and he did not intend that his commander should be shot down thus readily. As the Confederate leader's pistol went up, Fronklyn's sabre came down, and the firearm fell to the ground, carrying with it three of the fingers which had clutched its handle.

    "Good for you, Fronklyn!" cried Deck. "I owe you one for that!" And then the tide of the contest carried them apart.

    Fully half a hundred of the Confederate horsemen were as daring as their leader, and, while the others fell back and into the hands of the second and third battalions of the Riverlawns, these continued to press forward desperately, hoping to force a passage by sheer might of will power. Truly, their bravery was worthy of a better cause.

    The shock of battle was one of the heaviest Deck's battalion had ever received, and for several minutes it looked as if the four companies must go to pieces. But the gallant major rallied his forces, and the Confederates were hemmed in so closely that they could neither advance nor retreat. Sabre blows fell thick and fast, striking fire in a dozen spots at once, and fully a dozen horses and riders went down in less than five minutes.

    But the meeting, if sharp, was also short, and with himself and two of his officers disabled, the Confederate leader surrendered and the fighting stopped. Scarcely had Deck received word that the fight was won than Sandy Lyon rode up, as a special messenger from Major Belthorpe.

    "The infantry are in the lower end of the hemp field," said Lieutenant Sandy. "Where is the colonel, please?"

    "With Major Truman," responded Deck. "Does Major Belthorpe need reënforcements?"

    "He says he can take the infantry if he is given two more companies."

    "All right; tell him I'll be over as soon as I can get there," was the major's answer.

    He turned to Captain Richland, in charge of the second division of the first battalion, and left it to the third and fourth companies to take charge of the prisoners, forty-two in number. This done, he took the first and second companies with him, and rode with all speed in the direction his cousin had pointed out to him.

    His arrival came none too soon, for Major Belthorpe was having his hands full with the infantry of the enemy, and it looked as if they might slip through his fingers. Finding a good position near the rise in the field, Deck managed to drive them back toward a position they had occupied a quarter of an hour before. In the meantime word had reached the colonel and Major Truman, and the third battalion came up on a gallop. A charge all along the line was made, and the Confederate infantry was placed in full retreat. One company was captured, but the others took to the stony ground beyond the hemp field, and under cover of darkness managed to make their way, along with a number of other troops, to Rutherford Creek. They were hotly pursued by the second and the third battalions, but the high water in the creek made fording out of the question, and the Confederates escaped on boats, rafts, and floating logs.

    As brilliant as had been Deck's services during the day, he was not content to let matters rest as they stood. Feeling that some of the Confederate forces might still be in the vicinity, he obtained permission to go on a scouting tour along the creek, taking with him his companion of many such expeditions, Life Knox. The pair left the camp quietly, although on horseback, and were soon out of sight and hearing of their comrades.

    "It may be a wild-goose chase," said Deck, referring to what his father had said concerning the expedition. "But if we return empty-handed, there will be no harm done."

    "Just exactly my way of looking at it, Major," answered Life, to whom the backwoods manner of talking was now a thing of the past. Deck had taught him how to speak correctly, and for this the tall Kentuckian was exceedingly grateful. He often declared that it was Deck who had made him fit to be an officer under Uncle Sam.

    "General Sheridan is bound to uncover the enemy's full force," went on the major, as he urged Ceph to make a sturdy leap over a strong running brook. "If we--hullo, what's this?"

    He stopped short, as Ceph swerved to one side, almost unseating him. This movement, on the part of the intelligent horse, was so unusual Deck knew at once something must be wrong. "What is it, Ceph?" he questioned, patting the steed on the neck.

    For reply the horse turned about and pointed his nose toward the meadow grass which he had just trodden. The major leaped down and peered into the semi-darkness.

    "A Confederate captain, seriously wounded or dead," he cried to Life. "Poor fellow, he is hardly more than a boy," he went on, gazing on the pale, youthful face, along one side of which the blood had flowed and dried. "Perhaps we can do something for him," and he knelt over the prostrate body.

    Life also came to the spot, and between them they raised the boyish captain up. As they did this, he opened his eyes and gave a gasp.

    "Water!" he murmured. "Water!"

    Plenty of water was handy, and filling his canteen, Deck gave the wounded one a drink and bathed his face, after which he started to bind up the injured head with his handkerchief.

    "It's no use, I'm going to die," gasped the Confederate, not able to speak above a whisper. "Are you--you Southern men?"

    "We belong to the Kentucky troops," answered Deck.

    "Yes; but what side?"

    "We are on the side of the Union."

    At this the youthful captain gave a groan. "Then I--I can't expect anything of you. Too bad! I wanted to send word to my sister--" A sudden spasm of pain caused him to stop speaking.

    "We are not enemies, Captain, saving on the battlefield," said Deck, tenderly, for this case appealed strongly to his considerate heart. "You can rest assured that I will do all that I can for you--within the lines of my duty to the government."

    "Will you? You--you look like an honest fellow--and you are young, like me."

    "The major is all right, Captain," broke in Life. "Trust him for anything he promises."

    "I come from Chattanooga, where I lived alone with my sister Rosebel. She didn't want me to join the army, and we--we quarrelled--" The captain gave something like a sob. "I joined the cavalry--ran away from Rosebel--and we--we quarrelled so hard I got mad and took the money--hid it away--down in the back cellar--in an iron pot--eight hundred dollars in gold. If you will do a stranger and an enemy a kindness, go to Rosebel,--or send word--ask her to forgive--ask her--tell her I am so sorry--so sorry--" Again the captain broke off, and now his eyes closed.

    "Let me give him a bit of liquor, Major," said Knox, and poured some into his cup. The wounded youth took a swallow, and it gave him temporary strength.

    "Oh, Rosebel, if I could only see you again," he murmured. He looked at Deck searchingly. "You will go to her--or send word?"

    "I will."

    "Don't forget to say how sorry I am--how ashamed I was when I got away--not for fighting for my country--for the glorious stars and bars; but because I--I treated her so. She was always so good, since mother and father died."

    "I will do all I can for you. But your name--I must have that," said Deck. The captain had fallen back, and the eyes were becoming glassy. "Perhaps he had better have some more liquor, Life," he cried.

    "My name is Paul--my name is Pa--" The sufferer broke off short. In vain he tried to speak. A shudder took possession of him, and he stretched out--dead.

    "Gone!" muttered the tall Kentuckian. "Too bad. And only a boy, Major."

    Deck could not trust himself to speak. During the past two years he had seen many men die, but no death had affected him like this. Two tears stole silently down his browned cheeks.

    "Didn't catch his name, either?" went on Life.

    "No."

    "Then how are you going to find that sister of his?"

    "I don't know yet; but I will find a way--I must," was the firm answer. He felt that the dead Confederate had intrusted him with a mission that could not be ignored.

    Ere now the dead had been left where they had fallen, but both Deck and Life felt they could not leave this boyish captain lying in the meadow grass. Looking around, they found a trench dug through the meadow to the brook, and in a dry portion of this they deposited the body, first relieving it of a watch, a pocket-knife, and a photograph of a pleasant-looking Southern girl, presumedly Rosebel. The sods from the trench still lay upon the banks, and with these and some loose dirt they covered up the corpse. Then taking a long stick, Deck cut one end flat, and marked upon it with a heavy pencil,--

    ROSEBEL'S PAUL LIES BURIED HERE.

    The stick was stuck at the top of the grave, and silently they mounted their horses once more and proceeded on their way. It was fully ten minutes before either of them spoke again, and then the subject was something of an entirely different nature.

    "Halt, Major!" It was Life who uttered the word, speaking in a whisper. The tall Kentuckian had discerned three forms moving before them in the darkness.

    Deck also saw them, and brought Ceph to a stop. The three forms were on foot, but whether friends or foes they could not tell.

    They had reached the edge of the creek, and above the spot was a patch of woods, while below was a long meadow, cut up into numerous brooks. On the opposite side of the creek was another patch of woods much denser than the first mentioned.

    "This is the spot, Leftenant," they heard one of the party of three remark.

    "Are you sure, Bolder?" came in a second voice. "Remember, you were mistaken before."

    "Well, I'm not mistaken now," answered Bolder. "Here is the very tree I notched."

    "Yes, this is the trail," came in a third voice. "And I don't believe there has been a single Yankee around."

    "I trust not, Peters. But we are not out of the woods yet--in more ways than one. The raft may be gone, and fording this stream in such a flood as this is entirely out of the question."

    "Oh, we could get over alone, Leftenant," answered the man named Bolder. "But that wouldn't be getting over those cases of ammunition and that field-pi--"

    "Hush," came in a warning from the lieutenant. "You don't know but what some of those hanged Yankees may be around here."

    "That's true, though I didn't see any of 'em as we came along."

    "Perhaps, Bolder, you had better make a circuit of the woods before we get to work," said the lieutenant, a moment later. "We don't want to be surprised at our task."

    "As you say, Leftenant; Tom Bolder is here to obey Leftenant Blackrook every time."

    "Then go at once, and if you see anything alarming, give the whistle before agreed upon," rejoined Lieutenant Blackrook, as he and Peters moved into the grove of trees.

    In a moment more Bolder had started off, gun on his shoulder. His course was almost directly toward a clump of bushes behind which Deck and Life had sought shelter, and from which spot they had overheard all that had been said.
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