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    Chapter 19

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    Chapter 20
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    IN WHICH THE RIVERLAWNS ARE CAUGHT IN A TRAP

    To have a body of the enemy disappear utterly from view when there were no hills or woods in which they might hide, was a new experience to Major Lyon, and it was small wonder, therefore, that his brow contracted into a frown as he urged Ceph ahead at topmost speed.

    "What do you make of this, Tom?" he questioned, of the major of the second battalion.

    "Hang me if I know what to make," was the answer. "Captain Ripley must be losing his eyesight if he can't keep forty or fifty men and nearly a hundred horses in sight."

    "Then his whole command must be losing their eyesight, for the enemy is gone, and nobody can even guess where to."

    "We'll solve the mystery somehow, Deck. But we ought to beware that we don't fall into some trap."

    It took but a few minutes to reach Captain Ripley's advance guard, consisting of one-third of the eighth company. The captain himself had the blankest look on his face Deck had ever beheld.

    "It gets me, Major; never heard of such a thing in all my born days," declared the captain. "We saw them as plain as day, riding behind yonder hedge. They didn't come out at the other end, and so I and three of the others climbed into the trees, only to find the vicinity of the brush deserted. Reckon the earth has swallowed 'em up."

    "Well, Ripley, they have gone somewhere, that's as sure as guns," was the answer of the young major. "Move a portion of your men to the upper end of the brushwood, and another portion to the other side, and we'll endeavor to get to the bottom of this mystery."

    The command was obeyed, and meanwhile Deck sent back word to Major Truman to bring up the regiment and scatter it in a huge circle around the vicinity. "Unless they have slipped on ahead, we are bound to get them," he said to Tom Belthorpe.

    Captain Ripley had gone with six men to the upper end of the brush, Belthorpe remained with six others where the first stand had been taken, while Deck, with the remaining cavalrymen present, made a detour, coming up on the opposite side of the growth, and at a distance of three hundred yards. He was on a slight hill, and could look directly down upon the spot the Confederates, with the extra horses, had occupied. As Captain Ripley had said, the enemy was nowhere in sight.

    The men looked at Deck, and it must be confessed the major felt uncomfortable, for he had been certain that something would turn up when a better view of the ground back of the brush was obtained.

    "We will advance,--but do so cautiously," said the major, and drew his pistol. Hardly two hundred feet had been covered when he made a discovery. The brush overhung a small, rocky brook, probably three feet deep in the centre. But where the water came from and where it went to was another question. Certainly, in making the detour, he and his men had crossed no such watercourse.

    "It must come either from a powerful spring or from underground," he reasoned. "Forward!" he shouted. "That running stream must solve the mystery."

    The brook was soon gained, and found to flow to the southwestward. A detail was sent up the stream, and soon came back reporting that there were several small springs there, but the larger portion of the water came from a flow out of the side of a small hill.

    Major Truman now reported that the Riverlawns had surrounded the entire territory, and feeling certain he had the enemy secure, Deck continued his investigation. Several cavalrymen were sent down the centre of the brook, while he kept abreast of them beyond the brush.

    Almost the end of the wood was gained, when the cavalrymen shouted out that they had reached a small waterfall, and could go no further. Pressing over the rocky ground, Deck gained the waterfall, to find at its bottom a well-hole in the almost solid rock, some fifty or sixty feet in diameter. At the bottom was a pool, partly covered with dead brush and decayed tree trunks, and the water ran off in a large opening to one side of the well-hole.

    "Here are horses' hoof-prints, Major," said one of the men. "I shouldn't wonder if there is a winding path leading down to that 'air pool. But if the rebs went down there, what became of 'em?"

    "There may be a cave there," answered Deck. "These underground watercourses often flow through caves around where I live, not far from the Mammoth Cave."

    "To be sure, Major. Shall we go down?"

    "Yes, but be on your guard."

    The winding path was soon traced out, and not caring to risk the limbs of their animals, the cavalrymen went down on foot. In high curiosity, Deck followed, to find himself in a cold and gloomy place continually filled with fine spray from the waterfall. True enough, there was a cave some ten feet high by twenty feet wide beyond the falling waters, through the bottom of which flowed the brook as peacefully as it flowed above in the sunshine. Looking ahead, they saw the outlet of the cave, several hundred yards distant.

    "They have outwitted us!" cried Deck, after a moment's examination. "They came down here and rode right through the cave. Evidently they were commanded by somebody who knows this locality well. They have a fine start of us, but if we don't let them know what we have discovered we may yet take them unawares."

    As no one had his horse, all present had to climb back to the top of the well-hole. As soon as this was done, Major Lyon despatched several messengers to notify his officers of the truth of the situation, and then set off at full speed in the direction the retreating enemy had taken. He was soon joined by Captain Abbey with the first battalion, and the four companies were urged forward at the best speed the condition of the road allowed.

    The Confederates had made good use of the time gained by the trick they had played, but they could not go on forever, and by nightfall their horses were so wearied they refused to get off a walk, and then their commander, a plucky young man from Montgomery, who was by profession a surveyor, and well acquainted with the territory, led his men and the extra horses directly into a bit of swamp ground, surrounded by a thicket of cypresses. There were but two paths into the swamp, and he felt tolerably safe from pursuit.

    The trick that had been played upon him put Deck upon his mettle, and he determined, come what might, that the Riverlawns should capture those particular Confederates ere the journey to Huntsville was resumed. As an entrance to the swamp would have proved dangerous in the darkness, he encamped for the night on the outside, but sent out a strong picket guard to surround the district.

    The Confederates endeavored to escape at four in the morning, knowing that daylight would prove fatal to such an undertaking. They came out of the swamp on both roads, and an alarm from the two spots rang out almost simultaneously. But Major Lyon had prepared for this, and at the first alarm the first battalion galloped to one road, the second battalion to the other, while Major Truman's command kept on the grand circle. Thus it was fight or go back and be hunted down, and the plucky Confederate captain chose to fight. Those on the second road ran or rode to the first, and the entire command charged the first company of Deck's battalion.

    Maddened by what seemed a hopeless charge, the Confederates fought desperately, but they could do nothing against such superior numbers, and almost the first man to go down was the captain, shot through the heart. Deck was within a hundred feet of the fellow, and hardly had their leader fallen than two Confederates rushed upon the young major, each with a bayonet affixed to his gun.

    "We'll run you through, Yank!" cried one, and made a furious onslaught with his bayonet. The other did the same, and although Deck was not touched, Ceph received a severe prick in the right flank. The next instant Deck fired, and one soldier went down, shot through the ankle.

    The second soldier was directly in front of Ceph, and maddened by pain, the horse reared up on his hind legs, made a leap, and came down heavily on the Confederate. His right front foot caught the man in the face, and he went down with a broken nose, a disfigured forehead, and totally senseless. Then Ceph took another leap, and in a twinkling the whole scene was a thing of the past.

    The second battalion had followed the flying enemy through the swamp, Major Belthorpe being satisfied his horses could go wherever the Confederates found a footing. As the enemy was now brought to a standstill, he was caught between two fires, and there was nothing left for him to do but to surrender. The captain being killed, the second in command, a tough-looking specimen of the "swamp angel," threw up his hands, in one of which fluttered a dirty white handkerchief.

    "Do you surrender?" demanded Major Lyon, who saw the movement.

    "Yes," was the surly response.

    "Very well; advance one by one, and throw down your arms in a heap. Captain Abbey, have your company cover them well."

    "Say, but you're a young rooster to be givin' orders around hyer," went on the "angel."

    "You will keep silent and do as ordered," said Deck, briefly; and then no more was said.

    One by one the Confederates advanced and deposited their arms as commanded. This being concluded, Captain Abbey was ordered to form the enemy into columns of fours and march them to the highway beyond the swamp. The second company took charge of the horses, of which there proved to be forty-seven all told. Four were found to be in a pitiable condition, and these the major ordered shot, to put them out of their misery.

    "Well, Major, we have made a fine capture truly," remarked Captain Blenks, of the second company, after reporting that at least thirty of the horses were thoroughbreds. "Those animals alone are worth twelve or fifteen thousand dollars."

    "Where are the three prisoners the Confederates were holding?"

    "I haven't heard of them."

    Without delay Deck summoned the leader of the captured crowd before him.

    "I want to know something about the three prisoners you had with you," he said.

    "They got away from us last night."

    "You are telling me the truth?"

    "Yes, Major. We had a traitor among us--a lad from Kentucky named Feswell. He untied 'em, and the hull four skipped in the darkness."

    Unwilling to believe the fellow, who looked the rascal in his face, Deck waited until daylight, and then sent a detail to search the swamp from end to end. The men were under the command of Sandy Lyon, and in less than an hour they returned with the three prisoners, who had been tied to trees and gagged. One of the poor fellows, the captain of an Illinois company, was in distress from a bullet-wound in his arm, and all three were suffering from hunger and thirst.

    Deck's indignation over this discovery was great, and he at once visited the batch of prisoners and read them a lecture on their brutality. "War is one thing, and uncalled-for heartlessness is another," he said. "Had these three men been left to die in the swamp, every one of you who knew of their plight would have been guilty of murder. I had intended to send you into the Union lines as you are; now each of you shall ride the distance with his arms strapped behind him, and your rations shall be hardtack and water,--nothing more."

    At this there was an outburst of indignation. But Deck was obdurate, and the Confederates were forced to submit. Men and horses were placed in the charge of the third battalion, and by noontime Major Truman was on his way northward with them, the three Union men accompanying the command, and assisting in watching the prisoners.

    By nightfall the first and second battalions had reached a small hamlet known as Conners, and they encamped on the outskirts, occupying a deserted farmhouse, and a half-dozen barns close by. Sentinels had been carefully posted, and Deck and the others got a good sleep after the night of wakefulness at the swamp.

    It still wanted two hours of daylight when a message was brought to Deck that the Riverlawns were wanted at a spot two miles south of where they were encamped. It was reported that a portion of Minty's cavalry had encountered a body of Forrest's command, to which was attached a number of Tennessee guerillas. Help was wanted at once, or the Union troops would be annihilated.

    The message perplexed Deck not a little, as he had no idea that Minty was in the vicinity. Yet, if help was needed, he was not the one to hold back, and in less than half an hour the Riverlawns were on the way, eating their ham and hardtack as they galloped forward. The messenger, an elderly man who wore the shoulder straps of a lieutenant of cavalry, stated that he knew every foot of ground in that part of Alabama, and was, therefore, allowed to take the lead without question.

    For half a mile the course was along a well-defined trail leading out of the swamp lands to a rocky and sandy elevation covered with a stunted growth of trees. Then they came to a narrow defile where but two cavalrymen could ride abreast. Here a guard was thrown out; but no enemy developed, and the defile was left behind and they emerged upon an open plain ending in a slight depression. From here a woods could be seen, almost three-quarters of a mile distant.

    Deck had been riding at the head of the column, but at the defile he had turned back, to make certain that every company came through in safety. Now he moved forward once more, just as Captain Abbey made the discovery that the trail was becoming dangerous through quicksands.

    "We have gone wrong, Major, I believe," said the captain. "Where is that guide?"

    "Why, I left him with you!" exclaimed Deck, in astonishment.

    "I know you did; but he rode back to interview you and see if it wouldn't be advisable to branch off on two roads which he stated were just beyond here."

    "I have seen nothing of him," said Deck, and instantly became suspicious. Several messengers were sent out, to the front and the rear, and it speedily became known that the guide had disappeared. Hardly had this word come in than the rear guard announced the presence of a body of Confederate cavalry on the hills on both sides of the defile just passed. Deck had but listened to the report when there came another from the front. The plain was impassable, being nothing more than an immense bed of quicksand. The Riverlawns were caught in a trap.
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