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    Chapter 30

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    Chapter 31
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    A FRIEND IN NEED

    Captain Brentford had tried to bribe Major Deck Lyon into telling all he knew concerning the Union army's proposed movements, and had failed. He now proposed to wring the information out of the major at the point of the pistol.

    It was an alarming situation, and Deck was more than glad to hear the hoof-strokes of horses approaching. He felt the horsemen must be Confederate cavalrymen, but just now anybody was to be preferred to nobody, to step between himself and the cold-blooded spy.

    "Get up and pass behind yonder bushes!" ordered Captain Brentford, hastily, for he, too, had heard the sounds on the road.

    Deck arose, but did it very slowly. A long look up the narrow highway brought to view eight cavalrymen, riding at top speed toward them.

    "Did you hear what I said? Get behind yonder bushes!" cried the spy, impatiently.

    "I heard what you said," answered Deck, and all the while he was doing a tremendous deal of thinking.

    "Then why don't you obey me? Do you want to be shot?"

    "Would you dare to shoot me, Captain Brentford?"

    "I would, and I will, unless you get behind the bushes at once."

    With slow steps the major moved toward the brush indicated. Nearer and nearer came the horsemen, until the leader was less than a hundred and fifty feet away. Then, without warning, Deck took to his heels, running straight for the cavalry, who were strung along in a column of twos.

    Almost overcome with rage and chagrin, Captain Brentford raised his pistol. But the major had calculated well, and the spy did not dare to fire for fear of missing his mark and striking one of the cavalrymen. In less than half a minute the opportunity for shooting was gone, for the cavalry halted with Deck in their midst, and the captain put up his weapon and strode forward. As soon as he caught sight of the major, one of the riders in the rear uttered an exclamation of astonishment, but this failed to attract Deck's notice.

    "Well, what does this mean?" demanded the leader of the cavalry, eying Deck, sternly. "Are you a Union spy?"

    "No, I am simply a prisoner of war, Major," answered Deck, noting the shoulder straps of the other. "Here is a spy," and he indicated Captain Brentford.

    "Hullo! Captain Brentford!" exclaimed the Confederate major. "Are you on business in this neighborhood?"

    "I just came through the lines, Major Collins," answered the spy, coldly, and Deck saw at once that for some reason there was no love lost between the two Confederate officers.

    "And what of this man here?"

    "I could not escape without him very well, so I brought him along. I reported to Major Dowlney, and he said I might turn the fellow over to the officers of Breckinridge's command."

    "It is odd you are conducting him over the road on foot in this fashion."

    "I would like to put in a word of explanation, Major Collins," interrupted Deck, who had listened closely to what was said.

    "What is it you wish to say?"

    "I would like to be placed under a regular guard of two or three men."

    "For what reason?"

    Major Lyon looked at Captain Brentford, who grew first red and then white. He felt his position was a delicate one. An exposure of the spy's treatment of him might only cause him more trouble. Fortunately Captain Brentford came to the rescue himself.

    "I would be only too glad to turn the fellow over to you, Major Collins. He has caused me a great deal of trouble."

    "And I do not deem that he has treated me as a prisoner should be treated," added Deck. "But I am willing to let the matter rest,--providing I can have another escort to the prisoners' camp."

    Major Collins looked first at Deck and then at the spy.

    "Has this man threatened you?" he demanded of the young Union officer.

    "He was very anxious to get information out of me."

    "I repeat, did he threaten you, Major?"

    "He told me that I must tell him certain things or take the consequences, and he had his pistol in his hand while he spoke."

    "And you were as helpless as you are now?"

    "I was."

    "It is a falsehood!" burst from Captain Brentford's lips. "He wanted to buy me off--offered me a thousand dollars if I would help him to get back over the river."

    "I stand by what I said," went on Deck, his face flushing. "I haven't a thousand cents to offer any one."

    Major Collins looked from one to the other. Had he and the spy been friendly he might have sided with the man, but as there was no love lost between them, he was inclined to favor Deck. Moreover, he was a fellow who could read character pretty thoroughly, and the young Union officer's open face appealed strongly to him.

    "I will take charge of the prisoner, Captain Brentford," he said quietly. "Surely if all is right, you will be glad to get him off your hands."

    "I am glad to be free of him," growled the spy, but his looks belied his words.

    "I will detail three of my men to conduct him to General Breckinridge's camp," went on the Confederate major.

    "I will go along."

    "That will not be necessary."

    "All right,--please yourself. I presume I can turn him over to you immediately."

    "On the spot," was the quiet answer; and saluting stiffly, Captain Brentford, scowling at both of the majors, withdrew, and walked rapidly along the road.

    In a few words Deck told his story, Major Collins listening eagerly. Then three men were counted off to escort the Union officer to the prisoners' camp. Among the three was the man who had been so surprised on first catching sight of Deck. Several times he was on the point of speaking to the young major, but each time he changed his mind.

    The horsemen did not wish to spend any more time than was necessary in conveying Deck to the prisoners' camp, and so the leader told the major to mount behind him. "It will be better nor running, and that is what you'll have to do if you remain on foot," he said.

    The course of the four riders was along a side road and past half a dozen plantations, the fields of which had been much cut up by detachments of Wheeler's cavalry, operating in that territory. The man who had Deck with him rode side by side with one of the other cavalrymen, while the fellow who seemed to have recognized Deck rode in the rear.

    "It's hard lines, Major, but I reckon you're bound for one of our prisons right enough," observed the leader, as they trotted along.

    "Fortune of war," said the young Union officer, as lightly as he could.

    "But you don't like it?"

    "To be sure not."

    "Married?"

    "No."

    "That's one consolation--if you die on our hands," and the man laughed at what he considered a joke.

    "I shan't die on your hands, if I can help it."

    "Oh, I suppose--But I've heard a good many of 'em do die; can't stand this balmy Southern air."

    "I think it is more likely they can't stand your poor food and foul prisons."

    "Our prisons are about as good as those up North, I reckon, Major. I had a cousin die up in New York somewhere--Elmira I think they called the lock-up. Reckon he was about starved."

    "I trust you are mistaken. It would not be fair to starve anybody on either side."

    At this the leader of the Confederate detachment grunted, and said no more. But presently he grew tired of his load and turned to the man riding in the rear.

    "Tom, supposin' you take the prisoner for a while?" he observed.

    "Just as you say, Messinger. Is he bound tight?"

    "Tight enough, I reckon."

    "All right, come right along," said the man in the rear, and happy to think he might continue to ride instead of walk, Deck transferred himself from the rear of one horse to the rear of the other.

    The man in front of him had spoken in a hoarse voice, as if he was suffering from a cold, yet the voice appeared to be more or less familiar. Deck tried, after mounting, to get a view of the cavalryman's face, but it was kept away from him.

    Inside of quarter of an hour the party began to climb a small hill. The road was winding, and lined with brush and rocks. At the top of the eminence stood an old stone mansion, and here the road split into three trails, one running straight on, and the others branching out at angles of forty-five degrees. Between the centre road and that to the left, stood the house, while near the trail on the right was located a large cattle shed and corn-crib.

    "I reckon we can stop here for something to eat," observed Messinger, turning to his two companions.

    "If we can get it," answered the man who had been riding beside him.

    "I will give a quarter in silver for a glass of milk," said Deck. "The money is in my left pocket. You might as well take a dollar bill if it can be used here."

    "It won't go--and I wouldn't tech it," cried Messinger. "Come on, Chador, and we'll see what we can get. Tom, you had better remain here with the prisoner."

    "Just as you say, Messinger. Don't you try to git away from me," the latter words to Deck, spoken with great fierceness.

    "If he tries to run for it, shoot him dead," ordered Messinger, carelessly, and dismounting, he walked toward the house, and Chador followed his suit.

    The two Confederates had scarcely disappeared than the man sitting in front of Deck turned his head so that he could look over his shoulder.

    "Major Lyon, listen to me," he said earnestly. "You don't remember me, because I've let my beard grow, and I'm dressed differently from what I was when we met before. We met at McMinnville, where you risked your life to save mine, in a burning cotton mill. I am Tom Derwiddie, and I swore that if ever I could do you a good turn I would do it. I reckon that time has come. Do you want to get away, or rather, are you willing to take the risk?"

    "Derwiddie!" gasped Deck, a flood of light bursting in on him. "Yes, I wish to get away, if it can be done. But your duty--"

    "Is to help the man as saved my life. You are not a spy, are you?"

    "I am not."

    "And if I help you to get away, you will try to get back to the Union lines without delaying to pick up information."

    "I will go as straight back as I can make it--I'll give you my word of honor, Derwiddie."

    "Then I won't be acting wrong in giving you a free rein. Now to my plan--it's been in my head this last half hour. First, take my pistol."

    "Yes, but you--"

    "Now let me untie that rope on your hands," interrupted Derwiddie, cutting the prisoner short. "We haven't a moment to spare. They may come back at any moment. Remember, you are to take all three horses."

    "All three?"

    "Yes, all three. So that they will have a job to follow you."

    "But yourself?"

    "I will fall into the road, knocked out by you."

    "Do you mean to say you want me to knock you out?" demanded Deck, who thought that his newly discovered friend was "going it rather strong."

    "I will do the deed, if you feel backward about it," answered Tom Derwiddie, modestly.

    "I certainly do feel backward, if that is what you are going to call it. You are by far too much of a friend to be touched."

    "But I must be knocked out, or my record won't bear investigation, Major Lyon. Are you ready to gallop away on this horse?"

    "Yes," answered Deck, promptly.

    "All right, and don't forget to take those animals with you--at least for a ways." The Confederate hesitated. "If I give you the password, will you promise to use it only to get away on?"

    "I will, and do."

    The countersign was then given, and Derwiddie looked again toward the house. Not a soul was in sight.

    "Give me a small crack on the forehead with that pistol!" he cried. "Right there!" and he indicated the spot over his left eye, at the same time scratching it sufficiently hard to draw blood. "Now, strike--and good luck go with you!"

    Deck understood, and with his heart in his throat, struck out lightly. As the pistol landed on Derwiddie's forehead, he threw up his arms and reeled from the saddle. Pretending to stagger for a moment, he finally pitched headlong on the rocks. He was far from overcome, but he lay like a log where he had fallen.

    The drama was on and the major did not waste an instant in making the scene move along. Urging the horse to where the other animals were standing, he gathered up the reins and placed one beast on either side of him. Then, with his pistol ready for use, he started on a wild ride down the trail leading past the corn-crib. He had covered less than a hundred and fifty yards when a cry from the house told him that his flight was discovered.
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