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    Chapter 27

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    Chapter 28
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    Major Dexter Lyon had made up his mind that a portion of the hostile sharpshooters were concealed upon the narrow island in the centre of the stream known as Duff's Claim. Several shots had been fired, and both he and Life Knox had come to the conclusion that these had come from the heavily wooded strip of land.

    The major was very anxious to know what the sharpshooters were doing in this vicinity. No Union force had been in the neighborhood for forty-eight hours, and why should the enemy send such expert shots to such a spot unless it was known that they were wanted? Surely the Confederates had no sharpshooters to spare on a mere excursion into these woods.

    The major was in the habit of thinking rapidly, and his conclusion was, that the sharpshooters were guarding something, which must, necessarily, be of value, especially to the army. His mind went back to the time when he had captured the ammunition and gun on the raft. Would it be his good fortune to make another haul of as much, or greater, worth?

    It must be remembered that at this time the Riverlawns knew nothing of the great battle which General Thomas had precipitated by sending out troops to capture the brigade supposed to be isolated from the remainder of the Confederate command. To be sure, heavy firing was springing up here and there, but then there had been heavy firing before which had amounted to but very little when it came to summing up results.

    When Deck had been conversing with Life, his eye had been caught by two gigantic willow trees growing along the banks of Duff's Claim. One tree was along the shore where the Kentuckian's men lay concealed; the other grew on the shore of the island, directly opposite. Both trees were bent and twisted, and their branches interlocked some fifteen feet above the stream's surface.

    Perhaps the task Deck had set for himself may look easy to the average reader, but it was not altogether so, and the major realized this. The willows were old, and old trees often have rotten limbs which break when least expected. Moreover green willow limbs are very pliable and bend and twist beyond expectation. Under ordinary circumstances, Deck would not have minded a tumble into the stream, but he knew that a tumble now would bring a shot meant to be fatal and one which would most likely prove so.

    For Deck had decided to cross the stream by climbing up the tree nearest to him and making his way from one set of branches to the next. The tree was easily gained; and catching a limb on the side away from the water, he hauled himself up. Two minutes more, and he was at the point where he could grasp the branches which came from the opposite shore.

    So far he had heard or seen nothing to awaken his suspicion, and he was beginning to think that no sharpshooter could be within a hundred feet of him, if as close. He caught the limbs, took a long step, and in a second was safe on the tree beyond the stream.

    Deck did not deem it best to descend to the ground immediately. He moved first to the main trunk of the willow, and then to the ends of the limbs spreading toward the island's interior. Here there was a ridge, surmounted by some short but heavy brush, and behind the ridge was something of a hollow, although the surface was not below that of the stream.

    The first thing that caught Deck's eye now was a barrel, rolled against the brush. Half a dozen boxes lay close by, and several barrels were behind them. Back of all was another line of brush, but he felt that more boxes and barrels were not far off.

    "Some quartermaster's stores," he thought. "And if I am not mistaken, two of those boxes are from the hospital department. Evidently the enemy think they have a sure thing of it in this vicinity. Well, the Riverlawns will surprise them, I reckon."

    No one had been in sight, but now Deck detected the gleam of a gun barrel but a few yards distant. The Confederate sharpshooter lay flat on his chest, peering through the bottom of some brush.

    "By the boots, but thet's a good shot!" Deck heard him mutter; and he saw the fellow draw up his gun and take a careful aim at something.

    Deck felt that he was firing at one of his own sharpshooters, and without hesitation the major drew his own pistol.

    "Don't fire!" he commanded, in a clear, but low voice.

    "What's thet?" demanded the Confederate, thinking one of his comrades had spoken to him.

    "I said, 'don't fire,'" replied Deck, taking care to keep out of sight.

    "Who is thet talkin' to me?" And now the sharpshooter turned half around. "I had a dandy shot."

    "The cap'n's orders are not to fire, but to retreat to the other side of the creek," went on Deck. "Pass the order along;" and he spoke in a rough voice, and one apparently filled with disgust.

    "Well, I swan!" came from the Confederate sharpshooter. "It was a dandy chance to bring down a man."

    "I had a dandy chance myself just now," answered Deck. He felt that his position was a delicate one, and he kept his finger on the trigger of his pistol.

    "Are you going to retreat, too?"

    "No; the cap'n says I'm to stay on guard here."

    "Then he don't want me no more?"

    "No. You are to go back--and don't forget to pass the word along. We're running the chance of being surrounded, I've heard."

    At this the Confederate sharpshooter muttered something Deck did not catch. But he arose, and fell back, and in a few seconds more was out of the major's sight.

    Deck's ruse had succeeded, but he knew that the success would be of uncertain duration. His position was a perilous one, for discovery would more than likely mean death.

    Anxious to make the most of the present opportunity, he began to retreat, hoping to gain the position his command occupied and give the necessary instructions to capture the Confederates as they crossed the stream on the opposite side of the island.

    He reached the trunk of the tree and was on the point of moving to the outer branches, when a voice from below startled him.

    "Wot yer doin' with thet Union suit on?"

    Looking down, Deck saw a sharpshooter gazing up at him. The Confederate had his gun to his shoulder and the barrel was pointed directly for the major's head.

    "Got to wear something," answered Deck, speaking as calmly as he could, although he was somewhat shocked by the salutation.

    "Ain't you a Yank?" was the next question put.

    "A Yank! over here?" queried Deck, in pretended astonishment.

    The Confederate sharpshooter was silent for an instant, and shifted an immense quid of plug tobacco from one cheek to the other.

    "Say, Major, tumble down right yere!" he ordered abruptly.

    "Supposing I won't come down?"

    "Then I'll have to tumble you."

    "So you take me for a Union man?"

    "I reckon I take you for a prisoner, or a corpse. Which is it?"

    "I haven't any desire to become a corpse," answered Deck.

    "Then you'll come down? Correct, Major. Toss them pistols down fust, though."

    The gun was still pointed at Deck's head while the sharpshooter remained partly screened by some brush. As there seemed no help for it Deck threw down his pistol and also an extra revolver he had lately taken to carrying. His sabre had been left in Life Knox's charge.

    "Now come down, and no funny work," went on the Confederate. "I reckon you didn't reckon on bein' took so quick like, did ye?"

    "I didn't reckon on 'bein' took' at all," answered Deck. It was an easy matter to descend to the ground and soon he found himself standing beside the man. He was a brawny mountaineer, all of six feet in height and the picture of rugged health and strength. There was no doubt but that he was a crack shot and would not hesitate to pull a trigger whenever the occasion required.

    "We-uns is lucky," murmured the mountaineer, on surveying Deck. "Them is splenderiferous clothes you have got, Major."

    "It is a very good suit, that's a fact, Sergeant."

    "Don't call me sergeant, Major. I'm plain Tom Lum, from Dog-face Mountain, down in Alabama. Them stripes was left behind by a man as ain't got no further use fer clothin'. But you're a real major, I take it."

    "Let us change the subject, Tom Lum. What do you propose to do with me?"

    "Take you back to headquarters, I reckon. You're a spy."

    "If I am a spy then all of the others in this vicinity are spies. But, Tom Lum, if you want to take my advice, you'll let me go, and save your own bacon," went on Deck, earnestly. The mountaineer tossed his shaggy head and combed his flowing beard with his crooked fingers. "Got a new wrinkle to work off on me, have ye? Wall, it won't work. We-uns know a thing or two. March!"

    "Where to?"

    "Back to--"


    The gunshot rang out before plain Tom Lum from Dog-face Mountain had time to finish his sentence. With a groan the mountaineer threw up his arms, staggered several steps, and pitched headlong into a hollow.

    "Quick, Deck, or you'll never get away!" It was a cry from Life Knox, who had come up beside the willow on the other side of the stream and fired the shot, as Deck and the Confederate appeared through a small opening. "Never mind your shooting irons!"

    The shot amazed the major, coming so unexpectedly. But he was quick to realize that a chance to escape had come and equally prompt to make the best of it. Like a flash he turned, picked up his pistols, and ran for the stream.

    "This way, Deck!" continued Life. "The jig is up! The enemy are coming up behind us!"

    "Behind us?" repeated the major, in amazement. "What do you mean?"

    "There has been a fight back of this woods, and several regiments of infantry are retreating in this direction. If we are not sharp, we'll catch it on both sides!"

    Before Deck had a chance to digest this information, he caught it from the rear. Another sharpshooter had espied him in the act of leaping across the stream. As Deck went with a splash into the water, the fellow fired, and the major felt a stinging sensation in the left arm, just below the shoulder, where the ball had grazed him.

    "Heavens I don't say you are struck, Deck," ejaculated Life, seeing him stagger. "Take that for it!" he added, and fired at the Confederate who had delivered the shot. Whether he hit his man or not he could not tell, but the sharpshooter disappeared.

    In another moment the major was beside the captain and orders were given for the sharpshooters to charge toward the island, which they did with vigor. In the meantime, Deck fell back to where the battalion lay.

    "I have received orders to form on the road facing the stream," said Colonel Lyon. "Something is coming this way besides the Confederate infantry. The enemy is retreating."

    Without delay, the three battalions minus half of Captain Knox's company and half of Ripley's sharpshooters, were faced about according to the order. They had hardly taken positions favorable to each, when the outposts came running in.

    "Three regiments of infantry and a part of a battery!" was the announcement. "They are coming along as though they were followed by the Old Nick himself!"

    Colonel Lyon looked at Deck, his first major.

    "We must meet them, and stop them--such are my orders, my son."

    "As far as the first battalion is able, the orders shall be carried out, Colonel," replied the son, with a true military salute.

    Majors Belthorpe and Truman were also called up, and told what had to be done, and the various captains were also instructed.

    Hardly was this over, than a company and a half of infantry appeared, running at more than double-quick, over rocks and brush, some armed and some unarmed, and more without knapsacks than with them. They were followed by what seemed to be remnants of several other companies.

    "Halt! I command you to halt, you cowards!" yelled a frenzied major of the Confederates. "What are you running for?"

    "Ain't got no more ammunition!" called back a soldier, almost breathlessly. "Where's the ammunition they said was around here?"

    "It is not far away. I say halt! Halt! Halt! and you shall have ammunition! Halt!" stormed the Confederate officer, but without avail, for a panic is a panic, and hard to subdue, even among those who are naturally the bravest of soldiers.

    "They are coming like sheep!" exclaimed Deck. "First company, take aim--fire! Second company forward!" And around swung the battalion, one company after another delivering such an effective fire that the enemy stopped in a state bordering on total despair. Then half a dozen companies appeared which were not so panic-stricken. A cannon, dragged by eight struggling and almost exhausted horses, followed; and then came more infantry, until the woods seemed alive with them.

    "We are in for the greatest fight of our lives!" cried Major Deck to Captain Artie. "How it will end Heaven alone knows!"

    And then and there the Riverlawns got their first taste of that never-to-be-forgotten battle of Chickamauga Creek.
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