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    Chapter 31

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    Chapter 32
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    The turn of affairs had been so sudden that Major Deck Lyon had had hardly time enough to arrange any plan for escaping, now the chance to get away was presented. Up to the time Tom Derwiddie had spoken to him so confidentially he had not dreamed that he had a friend so close at hand and one who was willing to do so much for him. Saving the Confederate's life at the burning cotton mill had been a generous action that was bearing splendid fruit, of which the major was destined to reap the full benefit.

    Deck had no idea where the road he was taking led to, but he imagined that it would take him into the forest some distance beyond, and the shelter of this heavy growth of timber would be far more acceptable than would be a pursuit in the open.

    Fortunately, the three horses were used to travelling together, so there was no hitch here, and the speed made by all three was very good. When the corn-crib was passed, Deck found himself passing through a stubble field, but this was less than two hundred yards in length.

    But, short as was the distance, it was not yet fully covered, when Messinger appeared at the doorway of the farmhouse and gave the alarm. He could not see Derwiddie lying on the ground, but he could see Deck, and without pausing to think twice, he raised his pistol and fired several shots in rapid succession.

    Had the distance been less, or had Deck been standing still, he might have been seriously wounded, for the second shot glanced along his thigh and struck the horse he was riding in the fore-quarter. The horse staggered and fell, and it was only by a quick leap that the young Union officer saved himself from being trampled under the beast's hoofs.

    Alarmed by the injury to their mate, the remaining horses gave a snort and a bound and started to run. Deck tried to hold them, but was taken off his feet. Rather than be dragged along the ground, he released the reins, and like a flash the two animals left him to his fate.

    All this had taken less time than it takes to relate it. Seeing the effect of his shot, Messinger yelled to Chador, and both ran forth from the house on a dead run, straight for where Deck lay.

    As the major sprang up, bruised and covered with dust, he realized that a crisis was at hand and that he must do something or stand the chance of recapture. Luckily he had retained hold of the pistol Derwiddie had given him, and raising this he fired on Messinger, who was several yards in advance of his companion.

    As we know, Deck had practised a good deal with a pistol, and although the present weapon was not of the latest pattern, it could shoot straight, and Deck's aim was as correct as the shooting qualities of the firearm. The crack of the pistol had hardly died away than Messinger gave a yell and began to dance around in awful anguish, the bullet having taken off the thumb and first finger of his left hand and cut a path over two of his ribs.

    Seeing his companion struck, Chador came to a sudden halt; and when Deck prepared to fire again, the cavalryman lost no time in seeking the shelter of a slight rise of ground in the centre of the stubble field. He threw himself flat, and then Messinger did the same.

    "I wonder where Tom is?" asked Chador, as he looked ahead, to see that Deck had turned once more and was speeding toward the woods.

    "I don't know," groaned the leader of the Confederates. "Oh, my hand! I must go back to the house and have it attended to." And he started back, having, for the time being, lost all interest in going after the escaping prisoner.

    Unwilling to make the pursuit alone, especially in the face of what had occurred, Chador concluded to fill in his time hunting up Derwiddie. At the fork in the road he found the man lying where he had fallen, the blood covering his forehead and one cheek.

    "By gum! he's knocked out sure!" exclaimed Chador; and, getting down, he placed his hand to Derwiddie's heart. Of course it beat as strongly as ever, and, learning this, Chador ran for some water. As soon as the water was being used, Derwiddie began to groan and opened his eyes.

    "Where--where is he?" he moaned.

    "He got away," answered Chador. "How did it happen?"

    "Don't ask me," moaned Derwiddie. "Oh, the villain! Where is Messinger? Why don't you stop him?"

    "Messinger is shot in the hand, and the fellow skipped for the wood. I see he took your pistol."

    "That's so." Derwiddie gave another groan. "Carry me to the house, will you, Bob? Oh, what an upsetting all around!"

    Chador took up the man supposed to be "knocked out," and soon had him comfortable on a lounge in the sitting room of the farmhouse. In the meantime, Messinger was having two women folks care for his injured hand. When he felt better, Derwiddie told a long story of Deck's attack on him. "He was as strong as an ox, I couldn't do anything with him," he said; and he likewise declared himself altogether too weak to take part in any pursuit, so Chador was despatched to give the alarm to any soldiers or cavalry he might run across in the neighborhood.

    As soon as Messinger and Chador fell in the stubble field, Major Lyon turned and continued on his way to the forest. The timber was soon reached, and, without loss of time, he made his way among the trees for a distance of several hundred feet. Deeming himself now safe for the time being, he sat down on a fallen log to catch his breath and consider what would be the next best move to make.

    The darkness of night was beginning to fall over the vast battlefield; and under the trees with their dense foliage, but little could be seen. Deck listened attentively, but the only sounds which reached his ears were the shrill cries of the birds, who were terrorized by the long-continued booming of cannons and sharp cracking of musketry. Occasionally the roar of a battery could be heard, or a shot from the creek; but these were gradually dying away altogether, for both armies were worn out through fighting and because of forced marches over the uneven ground, and they were willing to leave the remainder of the contest for another day.

    Deck felt that his position was very trying, for more reasons than one would readily imagine. In the first place, the wood was large and dense, and wild animals were still to be hunted there,--and they occasionally did a little hunting on their own account. To meet a wildcat or a bear, or even a rattlesnake, would prove far from an agreeable experience.

    The wood was large, but it was entirely surrounded by open fields, and the major had every reason to believe that some Confederate troops lay back of them. As a matter of fact, nearly the whole of Breckinridge's command were encamped less than half a mile away.

    The distance to Chickamauga Creek was between a quarter and a half of a mile, and how much of shelter lay in that direction was a problem still to be solved. One thing was certain; if he wished to get over the creek and into the Union lines again, the attempt must be made that night, and he must trust to luck to find his way, although, to be sure, the night was fair, and Deck had some knowledge of the stars and how to read the heavens.

    Ten minutes passed in which time Deck made not the slightest sound. No one had come after him, and he rightfully guessed that he was safe for the time being. He waited a little longer and then placing the pistol in his belt, advanced cautiously through the forest in the direction he calculated the creek must be located.

    Presently a gleam of light reached his view, coming from a small hollow. He crept forward noiselessly until he reached a fringe of bushes bounding the hollow. From this point he beheld half a dozen Confederate soldiers sitting around a small camp-fire, broiling a chicken spitted on a bayonet. They were a merry crowd, and cracked many a joke in a low tone as they waited for the dainty morsel to become done.

    Deck did not view this scene long. Instead, he made a detour and continued on his way until he came to a small brook. Here he stopped for a much-needed drink. The brook was almost stationary, but a chip thrown into the water showed him in which way it was flowing, and, taking it for granted that the watercourse emptied itself into the Chickamauga, he decided to follow its fairly straight direction.

    He was proceeding along with increased confidence, when suddenly a negro voice sounded upon his ear, coming from a road which crossed the brook. A colored man was coming along, bringing with him half a dozen cavalry horses that needed watering. The fellow seemed free from care and sang "Dixie" with rare musical ability.

    Not having time to cross the road before the colored man arrived, the major drew back, thinking to make another detour, behind or in front of man and animals. He wished very much that he had one of the horses, but to gain one by force, he felt might lead to discovery and capture.

    The horses were very thirsty, and crowded for the brook in a bunch. There were several black chargers, one of white, and one of gray. As they came closer Deck could not help but notice that they were all in first-class condition, quite in contrast to many Confederate mounts he had seen.

    "Ceph! By all that's wonderful!"

    The words burst from the major's lips ere he had time to realize the injudiciousness of his remarks. He had caught sight of his own precious animal, Ceph, who had been stolen from him while he was up in a tree at the battle between the rocky defile and the swamp in Alabama. For the moment he could scarcely credit his eyesight.

    But if he wanted extra proof that it was really Ceph he was gazing upon, the noble steed furnished it himself. At the sound of Deck's voice he pricked up his ears and raised his head. Then he left the bunch of horses and rushed straight for the young major and rubbed his soft nose affectionately upon Deck's neck.

    "Good, faithful old Ceph!" Deck could not help saying. "Where in the world have you been? Oh, how I have missed you! They shan't take you again, not if I can help it!" And he leaped into the saddle.

    "Wha--what do dis mean, massa?" stammered the negro. "What right hab you-un to dat hoss?"

    "Every right in the world, Sambo," answered Deck. "The horse belongs to me, don't you, Ceph?"

    For answer Ceph gave a low snort of satisfaction.

    "Belong to yo'? I fink dat's a mistake, massa. Dat am Captain Loring's hoss, fo' suah," and the colored man shook his head decidedly. Then as he came close enough to note what uniform Deck was wearing, he gave a gasp of horror. "Fo' pity sake, massa, is you-un a--a Yankee?"

    "Yes, I am, Sambo, and I want you to keep your mouth shut about this," replied Deck, sternly. "The horse is mine and always was mine, and I am going to ride off on him. If you make any outcry I will shoot you."

    "Don't go fo' to do dat, massa orsifer!" came with a shiver. "I won't say a single word, 'deed I won't. But--but who's to take the 'sponsibility when Captain Loring find dat hoss ain't heah no mo'?"

    "You'll be telling the truth when you say he got away from you, Sambo,--for he did get away just now. Is this the way to Hall's Ford?"

    "No, massa; dat's de way to Lee and Gordon's Mill."

    "I don't know whether to believe you or not," said Deck, simply in order to get the negro "mixed." "I guess I'll find Breckinridge's camp somewhere around here. Now I'm off. If you give the alarm, remember, I'll come back and put half a dozen bullets through your body."

    "Won't say a word, massa orsifer," returned the negro in a more shaky voice than ever.

    "Very well, you'll be safe then--but not otherwise," concluded Deck, and continued on his way down the brook.

    He passed along as rapidly as Ceph could travel over the rocks and dirt, keeping to the brook just so long as the negro remained in sight. As soon as the colored man was lost to view, he turned at right angles to the direction he had been travelling, to throw any possible pursuer off the trail.

    Having left the brook which had been his guide, the major found it no easy matter to set himself right again concerning the direction of Chickamauga Creek. The way was dark and uncertain, and it was not until eleven o'clock that he came out at a point where a ledge of rock several yards in height overlooked the stream that divided the armies of the North and the South.

    All was quiet; so quiet that one would imagine the neighborhood deserted. But Major Lyon was not to be taken unawares, and leading Ceph back into the brush, he made a survey of the situation on foot. Presently he found a safe path into the stream, with no picket guards within a hundred feet on either side. This just suited him, and in a few minutes more, horse and rider were braving the current of the rolling Chickamauga.

    "Ceph could swim well, but not noiselessly, and they had not advanced over fifty feet before a command came out of the darkness from down the creek.

    "Who is that out there? Speak, or I will fire!"

    "What's that?" called back the major, at the same time urging Ceph forward, and up the stream.

    "Who are you?"

    "A friend."

    "Come back here then and give the countersign."

    "I can give you that without coming back," went on Deck, and did so, speaking just loud enough for his questioner to hear him.

    "What are you doing out there?" went on the picket, only half satisfied.

    "I am bound for the other shore to pick up some information."

    "Who are you?"

    "Have you ever heard of Captain Brentford, of General Bragg's staff?"

    "You bet I have," was the quick return. "If it's you, Captain, it's all right, and I wish you luck," and then the picket relapsed into silence. He had once met Captain Brentford personally, and was greatly pleased to have the supposed spy take him into his confidence.

    Much relieved, Major Lyon continued on his way, and in five minutes the Chickamauga had been crossed and he was on his way to find his command. Were it not for going too far into his confidence, we could state that he felt like hugging both himself and Ceph over their combined escape.
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