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    Chapter 20

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    Chapter 21
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    MAJOR LYON WINS A BATTLE AND LOSES HIS HORSE

    Major Dexter Lyon realized that he had been played false by the so-styled guide, and that his two battalions were in a dangerous situation. The eight companies of horsemen were in the centre of a small plain. In a semicircle in front was a low and treacherous quicksand, impossible of passage; in a semicircle to the rear was a rocky elevation, divided in half by the defile through which the cavalry had just passed. On the rocky elevation, on both sides of the defile, Confederate cavalry had been discovered, ready to pour in a hot fire on them the moment they attempted to turn back on their trail.

    "Major, it looks as if our goose was cooked," remarked Tom Belthorpe, after the reports from the front and the rear had been considered. "They couldn't have laid a neater trap for us."

    "And I allowed myself to walk into it blindfolded," answered Deck, somewhat bitterly.

    "The rebels kept mighty shady when we came through the defile," put in Captain Abbey, who was also at hand. "I wonder why they didn't open on us then and there?"

    "That is an easy question to answer, Captain," said Deck. "If they had opened up, our command could have retreated; now they have every one of us just about where they want us."

    "But you won't surrender without a fight, will you?" demanded Kate Belthorpe's brother, anxiously.

    "I have never yet done any surrendering, Tom. I want to know just how bad--What is it, Captain?"

    "A flag of truce," answered Captain Life Knox, as he dashed up. "A private is carrying it, and there is a Confederate captain of cavalry with him."

    "Indeed! They evidently want to rush things. Come with me, and we'll see what they want."

    Side by side Deck and Life rode off, the way being to the lower edge of the rocky elevation. Here the Confederates had come to a halt in the midst of some underbrush.

    "I am Captain Adairs, Mississippi Volunteer Cavalry," said the Confederate officer, with a salute, which the others promptly returned. "Who is in command of those Union troops?"

    "I am in command," answered Deck.

    "Major Dexter Lyon," put in Life, introducing him.

    "Well, Major Lyon, I reckon you know we have you in a pretty tight box," went on the Confederate captain, with a smile.

    "Is that so?" returned Deck, as though the thought was brand-new to him.

    "We have. Ahead is nothing but swamp and quicksand, and back here my command hold the defile and the entire elevation."

    "You must have your company pretty well spread out," remarked Deck.

    "I have more than one company with me--fully enough men to hold the spot. So you see you are entirely cut off."

    "Cut off from where?"

    "The outside world, so to speak," was the Confederate's impatient answer.

    "If we are, that's rather bad for us, Captain," and now Deck began to smile.

    "It is. The question is, are you willing to surrender?" demanded Captain Adairs.

    "To whom?"

    "Why, to me, of course."

    "Great Cæsar, Captain, what for?"

    "What for? Because you can't help yourself, that's what for!" and now the veneering of gentlemanliness vanished. "I call on you to surrender. If you won't, I'll open fire on you in less than five minutes."

    "Make it ten minutes, Captain," and Deck kept on smiling.

    "Ten minutes?" And the smile and the request perplexed the Confederate not a little, as it also perplexed Life Knox. The latter could not imagine what the major was driving at, for while he was a good soldier, and a first-class shot, diplomacy, military or otherwise, was beyond him.

    "Exactly, ten minutes--or possibly quarter of an hour."

    "I shall not wait longer than five minutes."

    "Then I'll try to make five minutes do, although it will hardly be time enough."

    "Time enough for what?"

    "Time enough for me to arrange my plans for giving you battle," answered Deck, as calmly as ever.

    "See here, do you take me for a--a fool?" cried the Confederate captain. "What are you driving at? I won't waste any more words with you."

    "Won't you?" Deck had his field-glasses in his hand, and now he pointed them to the northward of the rocky elevation. "They are coming, Life!" he cried. "We are all right! Come on back!" And he waved his hand to his companion. "Good day, Captain, and I don't think I'll surrender--now!"

    "Fooled!" burst from the Confederate's lips. "They are being reënforced! Why did I waste words here!" And without another look at Deck, he turned and galloped off with his orderly; and soon the two pairs were several hundred yards apart.

    "It was well done--you scared him nicely!" burst out Life. "But what's the next move on the checkerboard, Deck?"

    "The next move is to gain yonder grove of trees as quickly as we can. Carry the word to Major Belthorpe, and tell him to send Captain Ripley's sharpshooters and your own in advance. The first and second companies can come over here."

    Away went Life Knox with the swiftness of the wind, realizing that success depended upon speed, for it would take but a few minutes for the Confederates to learn the truth concerning the ruse Deck had employed against them.

    As soon as the tall Kentuckian had gone, Deck advanced toward the trees mentioned, rapidly but cautiously, for he had no desire to be picked off by some concealed Confederate marksman. His course lay over a series of rough rocks, but Ceph sprang from one to another with the lightness of a mountain goat. Soon the shelter of the first row of trees was gained.

    Deck was not particularly a woodsman, but as a boy he had climbed many a maple-tree in New Hampshire, and later on, many a walnut in Kentucky. He had not forgotten the art, and standing up on Ceph's back he leaped into the branches of the tree above him, and climbed to the top in what Artie would have called "jig time."

    The tree was tall, and standing on an elevation, afforded a good view of the surrounding territory for a mile or more on every side. Taking up his glasses again he inspected the situation with care.

    Captain Adairs had told the truth about having more companies than one. There were three commands all told, each numbering probably seventy to eighty men. One was on this side of the defile, and two were on the opposite side. The men were scattered at convenient points for holding the defile against almost any force.

    While Deck was surveying the situation, the Confederate captain reached his men, and orders were at once issued which took away half of the men at the rocky pass, and sent them in the direction of the main road beyond. This left but half a company in the neighborhood Deck was reconnoitring.

    "If we can't whip half a company, no matter what advantage they have behind the rocks, we are not fit for the Union army," thought the major, and began to descend the tree.

    He had just stepped on the limb below him, when he heard a crashing through the brush between the rocks. Wondering if it was friend or foe, he paused, and tried to look down. But the thick leaves and heavy branches cut off the view below completely.

    "Git up thar, git up!" he heard, in a rough, heavy voice, as somebody leaped upon Ceph's back. Then came a clatter of horse's hoofs, and he heard his faithful steed move off--a prisoner of the enemy!

    To Deck, Ceph was among his dearest possessions, and regardless of his danger, he scrambled down the tree with all possible speed, at the same time calling upon the unknown horse-thief to stop. But neither man nor beast halted, and by the time the major was down both were well out of sight.

    Bitter as he felt over his loss, now was no time for Deck to grieve, and he scrambled over the rough ground until he came in sight of the first and second company, advancing as directed. At the same moment a scattering volley of shots from the other grove of trees told that the sharpshooters under Ripley and Life Knox had got to work.

    "Lieutenant Fronklyn!" cried the major. "Go to Major Belthorpe at once, and tell him to bring all of the companies he has excepting Captain Ripley's men around here without delay. Captain Ripley is to work into the woods, but steer for the defile."

    "Orders understood," replied Lieutenant Fronklyn, and galloped off.

    Lieutenant Fronklyn was known to be a good rider, and he was soon out of sight. Without waiting for the balance of his command, minus the sharpshooters under Ripley, to come up, Deck urged the first and second companies forward.

    The sudden attack, added to the report that another force of the enemy was on the highway, threw the Confederates in confusion, and although they stood their ground, it could be seen that they felt more like breaking away. Several volleys were exchanged, and half a dozen men on both sides were hit, but nobody seriously.

    In the meantime Captain Ripley and Captain Knox had worked into the woods rapidly, and it was found impossible by Major Belthorpe to bring Life back, although an orderly was sent to deliver Deck's order to the Kentuckian. The balance of the companies followed the first half of the first battalion without delay.

    Realizing that the Union cavalry was massing on the north side of the defile, the Confederate commander endeavored to bring up the balance of the two companies from the opposite side. But the descent from the rocks on one side and the ascent on the other took time, and just now every moment was precious.

    Deck did not "let the grass grow under his feet." The first battalion went ahead on the double-quick, and soon a fierce hand-to-hand encounter was under way among the rocks. A dozen cavalrymen were wounded, and the Confederates fell back to a point midway between the defile and the highway.

    Those Confederates who had gone down into the cut were now trying to gain the heights where the fighting was going on. But Deck was ready for them, and sent Major Belthorpe to the edge of the defile with two companies of the second battalion and Artie Lyon's company of the first. They fired directly down upon the heads of the Confederates, and in less than five minutes had the enemy retreating in the wildest confusion.

    Deck had swung his three companies around, so that they had their backs to the defile. He could hear the sharpshooters pushing the enemy through the woods toward him. Presently the Confederates appeared, and the whole company which had occupied this ground originally was surrounded. Ten men were killed and an equal number wounded, and then the officer in command, a lieutenant, held up his sword, hilt first, to which was tied a white handkerchief; and the battle in that vicinity came to an end.

    As soon as the company, or what was left of it, surrendered, Deck sent a battalion and a half after those who were fleeing. But the Confederates were filled with terror, thinking the reënforcements had surely come, with sharpshooters in advance, and they continued to retreat at the full speed of their horses. They were pursued for half a mile, and then the chase was given up.

    An examination proved that the Riverlawns had lost eight men in killed and wounded, and the Confederates had lost nearly twice that number. Fifteen of the enemy had been captured, including an officer who said he had once practised as a surgeon. To his care were consigned all the wounded Confederates, who were, later on, carried to a farmhouse a quarter of a mile away. The wounded of the Riverlawns were turned over to Doctor Farnwright, the regular surgeon of the regiment, and the dead were buried with proper ceremonies at the spot where they had fallen.

    "You did the trick, Major!" cried Tom Belthorpe, after it was all over. "It was one of the neatest moves I ever saw!"

    "It saved our goose from being cooked," laughed Deck. He felt that he could afford to be light-hearted now.

    "That's so,--I was too hasty in what I said," answered Kate Belthorpe's brother. "But what horse is that you are riding?"

    "One taken from the enemy, Tom."

    "And where is Ceph?"

    "Gone."

    "Dead?"

    "No, somebody stole him while I was up in a tree looking over the situation."

    "That's too bad. I know you set a store by that horse."

    "I wouldn't lose him for a thousand dollars,--no, not for five times that amount," replied the young major, earnestly.

    And Deck meant what he said. To him the loss of faithful Ceph meant more than any of his comrades in arms could understand. He wondered if he should ever set eyes on the noble animal again.
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